Businesses and residents in Sheffield vow to tread carefully as Freedom Day arrives
Businesses and residents in Sheffield have vowed to tread carefully as coronavirus restrictions are finally relaxed after 17 months on what’s been dubbed ‘Freedom Day’.
Life as we knew it has been drastically different since the start of lockdown in March 2020, but all legal restrictions on daily life in England are over from Monday and new health secretary Sajid Javid has promised: “There’s no going back.”
However, against a backdrop of rising infections – Saturday’s 54,674 was the highest total since mid-January – some health experts have questioned the government’s decision.
Others, including ministers and Sheffield’s director of public health support the move but have urged the public to be careful.
That note of caution was present when The Star spoke to people in Sheffield about the return of normality, or something like it, on Saturday afternoon.
“People are very concerned with regards to what will happen in the next few weeks," said Father Kilgannon from the Mother of God and St Wilfrid Parish on Abbeydale Road.
"I’m going along with it to bring people together but we are very cautious.”
Mr Javid, who is self-isolating after testing positive for coronavirus, has admitted England will be entering “uncharted territory” in its wholesale scrapping of the rules and infection numbers could easily rise above 100,000 a day over the summer.
The Mother of God church has a capacity of 450 but this has been reduced to 100 during the pandemic.
While numbers will no longer be capped, Father Kilgannon, who has been the parish priest for 44 years, wants to maintain social distancing, if possible, and will recommend worshippers continue to wear face coverings.
“We are moving in the right direction but the way things are at the moment it’s very difficult to know how the pandemic is going to go,” he added.
Christy Stanley, who works at the Dead Donkey bar on Abbeydale Road, said it will be business as usual there despite rules easing, with table service continuing along with the requirement for customers to wear face coverings.
Other bars nearby are set to follow suit, he added.
“We are all saying ‘we don’t trust this, we don’t think this is safe’ so we are going to keep doing it the same way for the next few months,” said Christy, who will also continue to wear a mask.
"We are not willing to take that risk as this moment in time, peoples safety is more important to us.”
A small section of the bar inside Dead Donkey will now be allocated for standing but its 60-person capacity will, for the time being, remain at less than half with outdoor seating now a permanent fixture.
Some city nightclubs were set to open at one minute past midnight on Monday but Christy said there were no special plans to mark ‘Freedom Day’ at Dead Donkey.
He admitted he wasn’t sure whether drinkers would flock back or take their time.
"It could be like the Berlin Wall coming down, it could go either way,” he said.
Amid the trepidation there was also excitement, however.
"I think it’s brilliant,” said 57-year-old Mark Brinkley of the restrictions easing.
The Thurnscoe-based welder said he would no longer wear a face covering unless asked.
“We should just continue life as normal,” he added.
Mr Hussain, who runs VIP Gentlemen Barbers on Abbeydale Road, said he hoped restrictions easing would be good for business after suffering a drop-off in custom since the start of the pandemic.
“I’m feeling good about it, but we have to be careful,” he added.
"Business has been down, not the same as before Covid. Everybody’s very sensitive. Maybe it will change, I hope.”
Keeley Reader ran Carters Kitchen at The Moor Market before the pandemic but was forced to close when lockdown hit.
She told The Star she was most looking forward to seeing her family from today and ‘getting back to normal’.
The 39-year-old from Norfolk Park, who now works at Beres, confirmed she will continue to wear a face covering, albeit reluctantly.
"I just didn’t find it clean,” she added, “I think it was a bit dirty.
"I just don’t think the masks were that good.”
Numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies have found evidence wearing a mask can reduce transmission of Covid-19.
Mother and daughter Ruby and Sarah were also in support of restrictions easing.
“We have got to get back to some kind of normality,” said Ruby.
Sarah, a 27-year-old personal trainer at The Kettle Club on Harwood Street in Highfield, added: "It’s got to happen at some point.”
Ruby continued: “Sarah’s age group, they are missing out on life. It’s a lot taking taking two years out of someones life.”
Sheffield’s director of public health Greg Fell described Monday’s lockdown lifting as “the least bad choice.”
"Further delays would have incurred massive social and economic harm and pushed the peak further into autumn and winter and we would be in an even worse situation than now,” he added.
The track and trace app has been binned by one couple from Norton Lees, who did not want to give their names.
“I’ll be cautious because I know it [coronavirus] is rife,” said the woman, 66, who cares for her 70-year-old clinically vulnerable husband
“His quality of life is poor so why make it any worse by having to stay in for 10 days?”
The final word went to 60-year-old Garry Mitchell, who works at Dearne Farm Foods at The Moor Market.
His elderly mother-in-law has not left the house “for 18 months” because of her fears around coronavirus. Garry’s kids are not allowed to use the toilet inside when they visit their grandmother through fears they might contaminate surfaces.
"A lot of people are scarred for life,” Barnsley-based Garry added. “Some people have lost their quality of life.
"We have got to progress forward.”