Face masks will not be legally required and social distancing rules will end from 19 July. What do people in Southwold – the popular Suffolk resort that once urged people with second homes there to stay away – make of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement?
Ending restrictions is a double-edged sword for a place like Southwold.
On the one hand, it is hugely dependent on the tourism industry. More than half of Southwold’s 1,350 homes are either second homes or holiday rental lets, which means the town’s population swells during holidays.
Easing restrictions, people in the town say, is great for the local economy.
But on the other hand, nearly half of its 800 or so permanent residents are older than 66 years old, which for some raises concerns about their safety.
It is a dilemma the town has faced before. In April 2020, the town hit the headlines after a banner was put up by town councillors Simon Flunder and David Beavan urging people to stay away.
“Please respect us. Don’t infect us,” the 3.6m (12ft) yellow signs read.
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Weeks later, it was replaced with green banners which thanked people for staying at home while encouraging them to help “rebuild our green and pleasant Southwold”.
The ambivalence in the town remains in the wake of the prime minister’s announcement on Monday.
‘Maybe it is a bit premature’
The likely ending of restrictions was something friends Lucy Platt and Charlotte Rollason were discussing just a few days ago.
“I’m still going to wear a mask in shops, partly because it is what I am used to,” says Lucy Platt.
“I will just feel more comfortable doing that.”
“I think there has to come a time where it happens,” says Charlotte Rollason. “I feel maybe it is a bit premature, but I do think at some point we need to learn live with this and then it is people’s choice.”
‘This has got to be the final one’
For university students Robyn Poole, James Savident, Clare O’Brien and Joe Barbrook, it’s “definitely time” for the restrictions to be lifted.
Mr Barbrook, who lives in Southwold and goes to university in Essex, says: “The government has promised that the restrictions were going to be lifted for so long now and they’ve just kept backtracking and backtracking.
“I feel like if they were to backtrack again it could cause more problems.”
He says he will not worry about wearing a mask after the restrictions are lifted, and says he cannot wait to go to festivals and clubbing – something he has mostly missed out on after turning 18 not long before the first lockdown.
His university housemate Miss O’Brien says she hopes that, once the rules are eased, “it won’t go back again”.
“It can’t go back, this has to be the final one if they are going to do it, they have to be sure,” says the 18-year-old.
Fellow housemate Miss Poole, 18, agrees, adding: “I’m excited to not care anymore.
“Just doing normal things and not having to worry or feel guilty about it.”
‘It may make some customers a bit worried’
“In a small shop like ours, I would prefer the masks to stay,” says Matt Barbrook, who runs Little Gems, a greengrocers on Market Place. “It gives people that security.
“Without the masks, it may make some customers a bit worried and deter them.
“But on the other hand, we have to get back to normal and normality and it’s good if that’s the way [the government] think we can go.”
‘It will be great to have things return to normal’
“I’m in two minds about it,” says resident Laura Cliff, who runs Duchies, a café on the High Street.
“Whilst it will be really encouraging and great for business, on the other hand, balancing it against still having lots of people suffering with it [coronavirus] and testing positive is also actually quite worrying in case things go backwards again.
“So I’m a little bit nervous but it will be great to have things start to return to normal.”
She says while Southwold has been busier recently, it was still “a long way from where it will end up”.
“I think there are going to be some people who will be worried to go out and about,” she says.
“I know people who are older or need to be more cautious who are certainly going to be quite worried about it [the announcement].”
‘Mask wearing is about personal responsibility’
Margaret Moxon, 72, is on holiday in the town from Nantwich in Cheshire.
“I’m fairly cautious and I think people should proceed with caution,” she says. “We won’t know until the end of next week what the figures are like for hospitalisation.
“I feel we might as well protect one another. I would be glad to get rid of the masks and not having to check into restaurants and places like that.
“But the priority really is health.
“I will wear the mask in certain circumstances, such as when I go to shops or in a crowded place. But I would not wear one when you visit the loo in a restaurant. But I think mask wearing is about personal responsibility.
“I think everybody wants freedom.”
‘I think we are getting so pathetic’
Diana Skellern is on holiday from Hampshire.
“We’ve all been very compliant for a long time and I now think people need to make their own minds up and be sensible themselves and not be told what to do,” she says.
“I think we are getting so pathetic and not being able to make any decisions for ourselves and that can’t be good in the long run.
“I think if they don’t lift the restrictions people will start not doing them anyway.
“I don’t think I want to wear a mask any more,” she says, although she suggests she may if on a train. “We’ve got to make our own decisions.”
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