Easing of Covid rules a cause for celebration for many, but concerns remain as cases soar
They have governed people’s lives for well over a year now but on Monday mandatory lockdown restrictions were lifted across England, marking so-called ‘Freedom Day’.
Face coverings are no longer compulsory in shops or public transport and social distancing rules have also gone.
Work from home guidance has ended, limits on gatherings are no more and nightclubs, restaurants and theatres can fully reopen, although vaccination passports for venues may be introduced in September.
In pubs, service is no longer restricted to table only.
But with cases of Covid continuing to rise, is Freedom Day cause for celebration or concern?
While the hasthtag #freedomday was trending on Twitter on Monday, with many people delighted to see all restrictions lifted, those opposed to their easing made their feelings known with the hashtag #freedumbday.
Antrim university lecturer and media commentator Anthony Miller lives in Stoke but works in Manchester.
He believes Freedom Day, with its divisive nature, had become ‘the new Brexit’ and that there was a ‘recklessness’ in the lifting of restrictions, particularly with cases of the Delta variant on the increase.
“It seems to me that Freedom Day is very polarising in the same way Brexit was,” Anthony said.
“There is a clear divide among the public here and people seem to be taking definite positions on it.
“Those who are pro-Freedom Day tend to be anti-mask wearing and anti-vaccine, while those who are opposed to it will continue to abide by the restrictions.
“I will continue to wear my mask wherever I go and to stick to social distancing.
“I do foresee some awkward situations arising where I’ll be challenged about still wearing my mask or when someone stands too close to me. Boris Johnson has put his trust in the public to exercise caution and yet we only have to look at the football hooligans and the way they behaved to see how well that worked out.
“I think Freedom Day is a vanity project for Johnson and what concerns me is that, since Brexit, society has become more divided. It’s every man for himself now and we’ve lost that sense of community.”
Carrickfergus woman Amy Buchanan, who works in PR in Salford, Greater Manchester, said she wanted to see life return to normal, but not at the expense of her health or the health of others around her.
The 24-year-old said she envisaged that she would continue to wear a mask, socially distance and avoid going to nightclubs for the foreseeable future.
“I used to love going to clubs but not at the moment. It’s just not worth it,” said Amy.
“On my social media platforms I saw some people I know who were queuing up outside a nightclub from midnight on Sunday. They were just so keen to get back on a dancefloor.
“But while I’ll still venture out to pubs and restaurants, I will keep wearing my mask, continue to keep my distance and follow the restrictions that have been in place.
“Manchester is notoriously bad for Covid cases and with the Delta variant on the rise, I feel that I could just step outside and catch it.
“Also, the weather is so lovely now. I don’t want to go to a club and then find myself having to self-isolate for 10 days. Where’s the freedom in that?
“I’d rather be free to go outdoors and enjoy that sunshine than catch Covid and be stuck indoors.” Lurgan singer Conleth Kane, who has lived in London for 18 years, said he didn’t feel there was a celebratory feel in the air or that people were suddenly joining in a mass lifting of restrictions.
“It seems to me that everyone is still being fairly cautious,” he said.
“The only thing different really was that when I was heading out at 9am, I saw people coming home from nightclubs at that time. I hadn’t seen that for over a year.”
Conleth said that while he would continue to wear a mask in confined spaces and on public transport, he would consider removing it in supermarkets, if he wasn’t near others, or walking to the bathroom in a restaurant or pub.
“Some of the rules have been so disproportionate,” Conleth said.
“I performed at a club on Saturday night and had to sing behind a plastic screen yet 60,000 football fans were allowed into Wembley. That’s lunacy.”
He added: “I feel we’ve all done our bit now. We’ve stayed home for over 12 months. I’m young, fit, healthy and vaccinated and I look forward to going to a nightclub again.”
A further 39,950 lab-confirmed cases were announced in the UK on Monday, along with an additional 19 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test.