There are some subtle changes to lockdown – but ‘normality’ is a long way off

Ipswich Market has reopened with social distancing measures. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Ipswich Market has reopened with social distancing measures. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

We may still be in the grip of the lockdown and waiting for the Prime Minister to come up with his road map out of the strictest elements of it, but there is no doubt that we are seeing subtle changes in the way it is applied.

B&Q reopened after sorting out social distancing inside the store. Picture: PAUL GEATER

B&Q reopened after sorting out social distancing inside the store. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: PAUL GEATER

A few more businesses are opening – and to be fair to them there was no real absolute need for them to have closed in the first place.

The market stalls stopped operating because they could not get in the stock they needed and B&Q closed because of concerns about social distancing inside their stores which they have now sorted out.

There’s also no reason why takeaways like Costa Coffee cannot open – even although why on earth people are so desperate for one of their takeaway coffees is a total mystery to me.

Don’t get me wrong. I love coffee and I’m a regular Costa customer (I have their app on my phone) but I go to their cafes to break up a day out shopping or to meet up with friends over an Americano. I’m not going to queue up to drink a cup on my own in my car!

I don’t really see any of these changes making a major difference to social distancing.

For me the big news of the week was that Ipswich (and Babergh and Mid Suffolk) council is reinstating brown bin collections. Gardens have been getting more attention than they have had for years over the last few weeks – and with the growing season in full spate this is a service that is really essential!

What is interesting, though, is the public reaction to the lockdown. And I think this has surprised many of our political leaders who are still struggling to come to terms with what is happening.

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It is clear from opinion polls that the vast majority of people are supportive of the measures and are actually quite fearful about going out of their homes for essential tasks like food shopping. That also manifested itself in some negative reactions to the news that Ipswich market was, quite legitimately, reopening.

There have also been one or two other subtle changes in people’s behaviour. I know someone who does the family’s weekly grocery shopping in the large supermarket about a mile away. It is the only time that the car is driven all week.

Last week they decided to drive to another supermarket about 12 miles away – partly to ring the changes but also to give the car a run for the first time since the lockdown started, to charge the battery and go through all the gears. It put another vehicle on the road for a comparatively short time, but didn’t endanger the social distancing concept.

But again I know some people will recoil in horror at such behaviour because some have become very judgemental in the height of the lockdown.

I heard one person complaining about people driving to a forest car park on a Sunday morning, presumably for their daily exercise. This person had seen about half a dozen cars in the park (which I know holds about 30 vehicles) while on a walk in the area from home nearby.

I really couldn’t see the problem unless the cars had driven there from the other side of the country (which seems highly unlikely). If they were families who had driven there from a nearby town to stretch their legs (and those of their pet dogs) in the vast expanse of a forest, what harm are they doing? It did feel as if the complainant was saying “It’s all right for us country folk to have nice walks, you townies should accept your pavements!”

But there is, and is likely to remain, considerable concern among the majority of the population about mixing again at the end of all this – and MPs and business leaders need to accept this. A minority might be champing at the bit to get back to the pub, the theatre, the cinema, or the sports stadium, but all the polling suggests this is only about 20% of the population.

The rest of us are worried about our health and the health of our loved ones. I heard a cinema boss on radio this week saying audiences are “desperate” to go back to see some great films.

What planet is he on? I’m a keen cinema goer. I’ve got a Cineworld Unlimited ticket. But if it opens before I am convinced it is safe – that all audiences have been vaccinated against Covid-19 – then I’m not going. I don’t care how much I want to see a film, I’m not going to risk my health for it!

That caution is going to be at the heart of the British people for years and will underpin the new reality we will have to face. Anyone who thinks the new normality will be anything like the old normality needs a reality check!

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