'Baby steps the right way to go': cautious welcome for England's Covid roadmap

Figcaption Baby Steps The Right Way To Go Cautious Welcome For Englands Covid Roadmap
Posted at: Author: Rain TV UK

S chool’s in, sport’s on, and at some point you might even be allowed to get people round for a barbecue: to a country stuck inside since Christmas, the concessions dangled in the government’s roadmap were undoubtedly significant.

At the same time, though, some of the steps laid out for England by Boris Johnson on Monday felt a little … familiar.

“Plenty of people have been going for a coffee and a chat already,” said Lauren Irlam, a cafe owner from Manchester, as she contemplated the news that two people would be allowed to spend time together in a public park from 8 March for reasons other than exercise. “It’s not exactly a mad free-for-all, is it? If people aren’t looking at it closely, they might feel like they’re getting something more. Whereas actually they might have been doing these things already.”

Lauren Irlam has been running her cafe Nibble primarily as a delivery business since Christmas. Photograph: handout

She was not the only one to note that the new rules on socialising seemed simply to be catching up with reality.

“It cracked me up,” said Fatima, a student from Luton. “I literally went for a sit in the park and a coffee yesterday when the sun was out and then I read I could go and sit in the park with a coffee. So in a weird way it’s a bit disappointing because I’ve been doing it already. Which doesn’t actually make sense.”

If some aspects of the new rules felt a little underwhelming, there was nonetheless a widespread sense that a slow, steady climb was preferable to the risks that might come with a rush.

“I’d definitely rather go cautiously – I think it’ll break people if we go too quickly and get plunged back into it yet again,” said Irlam, who has been running her cafe, Nibble NQ, primarily as a delivery business since Christmas. “It’s such a weird cycle of ups and downs – you think you’re OK one day, and the next you’re crying into your cereal. So yes, it’s baby steps, but I think that’s the right way to go.”

Even the changes that feel significant, like the resumption of children’s team sports and outdoor sporting facilities for adults by the end of March, come with caveats. Marcus Browne, who coaches under-14s and under-18s teams with the City of Leeds Basketball Foundation, views the change as “better than nothing”, but a long way from the indoor competitive environment his players thrive in.

Marcus Browne has been running fitness clinics over Zoom, but says nothing can replace indoor training. Photograph: handout

“That’s where the competitions are, that’s where we train best,” said Browne, who has been running quizzes and fitness clinics for his players over Zoom in the absence of physical sessions. “It’s not ideal. But it’s such a big part of their lives, they’re missing the camaraderie so much – it’s about structure, but it’s also about creating chemistry. So we’ll make something work.”

With hairdressers included in non-essential retail and therefore closed until 12 April at the earliest, Bridgette Ellwood, who runs a salon in Duxford near Cambridge, as well as working on TV shows including EastEnders and Loose Women, was a little worried for her customers. (Those fears were borne out by social media searches for the phrase “need a haircut”.)

“The worst of it is the clients who are telling me they’re putting a £9.99 box colour on their hair, and I say, ‘For God’s sake don’t do it, you’ll look like Ron Weasley,’” she said. “You can tell your readers, ‘Bridget said step back from the box colours.’”

While her customers clearly need her, Ellwood said that the government’s support package had saved her business – and if things were going to be weird for a little longer, she was determined to look on the bright side. “The positives are, I’m getting some money, I’m staying inside in freezing weather, I’m spending time with my daughter, I’ve got time to read a book,” she said. “We’ve been holding on by our fingernails at times, but there are people much worse off.”

Bridgette Ellwood is aware how desperate some people are for her skills as a hairdresser. Photograph: handout

Alan Matthews, a keen walker, said he wanted to get the Richmond Ramblers group that he chairs back together as soon as possible – but that, like the others, he would rather err on the side of caution. “We all feel, ‘It’ll come when it comes,’” he said, viewing the resumption of outdoor sport at the end of March as the likely best bet for his hobby. “Most of our group are older people, and yes, they will mostly have been vaccinated – but whether they will be confident after such a long time is a different matter.”

He too had clocked a few dubious social gatherings while out for a walk in recent weeks. “Some people do stretch the rules a little bit,” he said. “I think, in the end, it’s the social side that people miss most of all. The walk is great, but really it’s about meeting up with your mates, and having a good old chat. It’s not quite the same on your own.”

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