BUSINESS OWNERS across the borough have welcomed the phased approach to ending lockdown, because it “gives hope” for the future.
Colin George, a member of Wokingham Business Association, said the latest announcement is good news. However, he questions whether it will come with additional support for small businesses.
“There’s no guarantee that Wokingham’s high street will open on Monday, April 12,” he said. “There’s also no guarantee that we don’t end up with another covid strain, but it’s good news that non-essential retailers should be able to open up soon.”
He said now, the Government needs to clarify what it will do to help local retailers get back on their feet.
“I think our small businesses have been unduly punished for covid, and they really need some massive help to regain their business,” he added. “Our high street has been shut for nearly seven months, and people now need clarity to prepare for the future.”
Despite Mr George’s concerns, Sarah Zeneli, owner of Sparkle Vegan Events, welcomed the government’s announcement.
Pre-pandemic, her company organised vegan markets across the borough, and will be able to start hosting them again from Monday, April 12 — at the earliest.
Ms Zeneli said the plan to exit lockdown provided hope.
“We were waiting on tenterhooks for the announcement,” she said. “We have had to cancel some upcoming markets which we hoped could go ahead, in late March and early April.
“But at least now we have a date that we can plan around,” Ms Zeneli said. “And we can tell our traders when they will be back.”
Sparkle Vegan Events has been running a series of “essential” vegan markets in Woodley, open to traders selling food items.
“It’s been dark and dreary and cold this lockdown, so it’s nice to see that things will slowly start to get back to normal,” Ms Zeneli added.
“We will be able to reintroduce all our non-essential retailers, but we will still have to be really careful.
“We’ll still have all the covid guidelines at the market, including hand sanitisers and social distancing.”
Steve Watts, owner of eActiv Wokingham, also embraced the plan with open arms.
He said he respects the government for making tough decisions, and believes the plan will ease people back into society safely.
“I’m happy gyms aren’t in the first phase of the roadmap,” Mr Watts said. “It’s given us a bit more time.
“Hopefully by April 12, people will feel more confident about entering society.
“I feel so sorry for pubs, restaurants and all the other operators that have to stay closed, but I don’t think we can rush into these things.”
He believes his gym is safe, but questioned whether other centres are.
“A lot of people have been petitioning to open gyms early, but I don’t agree with them,” he added. “The reality is, not all gyms are safe, and the nation doesn’t feel safe using them.
“As much as I’d love to be running exercise classes now, the last thing we want is to go into another lockdown.”
But this didn’t get him down.
“All in all, I’m pleased with the roadmap and look forward to seeing people back in Peach Place soon,” he said.
Nationally, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said the plan should help the UK economy get back on track.
“[It] is a good starting point to the hard yards ahead,” said Malcolm Hyde, CBI South East director. “Businesses in the South East back the step-by-step approach to reopening and an end to damaging stop-start restrictions.”
He said businesses now have an “anxious” six day wait for the Spring Budget announcement, which will clarify what economic support they can expect from the government going forward.
It comes as the number of employees on payroll fell by nearly 830,000 last year, with more job losses in the South East than other areas.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) also reported the UK economy shrank by 9.9% last year, and saw the largest annual fall in gross domestic product (GDP) on record.
“Businesses and their suppliers are suffering from enforced closures and restrictions on social contact,” the Government said in its newly published plan.
It suggested easing restrictions will ensure the economy reopens safely, and gradually.
Restrictions will be revisited every five weeks, to monitor the spread of the virus.
On Monday, February 22, the prime minister announced a four-step process to get England shopping and socialising again.
In the House of Commons, he said the coronavirus infection rate is “only now falling below the peak of the first wave in April”.
He said while there is “no credible route to a zero covid Britain”, plans are now in motion to begin lifting the current restrictions and reopen England’s schools, leisure and hospitality industries.