WHILE schools and parents have welcomed yesterday’s news that pupils will go back on 8th March, the New Forest hospitality industry has been left “devastated” by an agonising wait to reopen.
The Prime Minister announced a roadmap out of lockdown yesterday, with the hope of lifting all restrictions by 21st June provided conditions are met in relation to the vaccine programme and infection rates.
A number of key dates were revealed in the four-step plan, with schools set to reopen first, followed by non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality.
Hotels, however, cannot reopen until 17th May, and pubs and restaurants must provide only an outdoor service until then.
The announcement has come as a blow to New Forest businesses.
Matthew Lawson, chairman of New Forest Business Partnership, said the exit plan “remains incomplete” without further financial support from the government.
“New Forest businesses have been hard hit by the pandemic, particularly our hospitality sector, which now has to wait another three months until they can reopen, and our business owners who have been excluded from all government support since March 2020,” he said.
Mr Lawson owns the Thatched Cottage Hotel in Brockenhurst and said the May date was “devastating” for his business.
“Given all the positive data about the R rate, cases and vaccinations, it is devastating that the reopening of New Forest hospitality is so far away.
“The government must save many businesses and many jobs that will be lost to the New Forest economy without a substantial package of compensation to cover the period until 17th May.”
Hotelier Robin Hutson, chief executive of the Lime Wood Group, was also scathing of the government’s strategy.
In a tweet, he said: “I wonder if Boris Johnson Rishi Sunak will refund hospitality businesses the millions spent making our places Covid safe last year?
“Had they told us, ‘it doesn’t matter how safe you make your establishment you won’t be allowed to open anyway’, we wouldn’t have bothered.”
Like many headteachers, Arnewood’s Nigel Pressnell was upbeat about the news all pupils will return to the classroom in two weeks.
“We look forward to seeing all students back in school,” he said. “Although they have done a brilliant job with online learning, many will be keen to get back to the classroom to be with friends and teachers face-to-face.
“We have established a good lateral flow testing facility in school and will adapt our existing programme to cover the majority of students and staff as they return. It will be a busy two weeks making plans to ensure students can return safely.”
Speaking in Parliament yesterday, New Forest East MP Dr Julian Lewis sought assurance from the PM that, going forward, vaccines would be the accepted method of controlling Covid.
“Thankfully, my right hon. Friend has clearly stated today that an extreme zero-Covid approach is impracticable,” he said.
Mr Johnson replied: “My right hon. Friend is completely right in the analogy he draws. The only reason I am able to say to the country that we must learn to live with Covid as we live with flu in the long term is, of course, because we have this vaccination programme and the capability to evolve our vaccines.”
New Forest West MP Desmond Swayne, who has long opposed the government’s lockdown policy, claimed in the Commons that ongoing restrictions have increased the deadliness of new variants.
“In the ordinary course of events, a virus that is successful becomes more benign,” he said. “The new variants – the ones that succeed – do not send their sufferers to bed.
“They keep them up and about, spreading it, but a lockdown reverses the terms of trade. The successful variant is the one that can get through the social distancing, is more potent and will get its sufferer into hospital, where there are much greater opportunities for spread.
“Anyone who is concerned about new variants should join us who are conscious of the need for urgency with respect to the huge economic and social costs of this lockdown.”
Key dates in the timetable for easing lockdown :
8th March – Schools, colleges and universities return, and one-to-one socialising outdoors allowed.
29th March – Rule of six will be reintroduced, allowing people from six separate households to meet outdoors, and outdoor sports facilities reopen.
12th April – UK holidays allowed, non-essential shops, hairdressers, museums, gyms and pools to open, and adults allowed to socialise in pub gardens under the Rule of Six.
17th May – Adults allowed to mix indoors under certain restrictions, with hospitality venues allowed to start serving indoors.
21st June – All Covid-19 restrictions lifted.