Monday 19 July marked a controversial landmark in the seventeen month fight against Covid – the end of the legal mandatory use of face masks. In England, limits on how many people can meet or attend events were lifted, nightclubs were allowed to reopen, theatres permitted to return to full capacity, and table service is no longer be necessary in pubs and restaurants.
Some individuals – and the battered entertainment and hospitality industry – have been enthusiastic about the new rules. But what was originally dubbed “Freedom Day” by the Government has come under fire from medical experts both in the UK and abroad.
They warn of the danger of “letting Covid rip” at a time when many people are not double-vaccinated, and therefore not fully protected. There have been predictions that infections could rocket to 100,000 or even 200,000 per day.
Many members of the public also have concerns. The Economist recently said that a poll it commissioned from Ipsos MORI showed that:
“two-thirds think masks, social distancing and travel restrictions should continue for another month. A majority would support them until covid-19 is controlled worldwide, which may take years. “
Over the past week, the Government has become less gung-ho, with Boris Johnson saying he still expects face coverings to be worn busy places and on public transport. Even as I write this. Boris has announced that full vaccination will be a condition for being allowed into nightclubs from the autumn.
So what can you expect while travelling, shopping and visiting entertainment venues in Chiswick?
Image above: Turnham Green Terrace station; photograph Jon Perry
Transport for London: The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was quick off the mark, insisting that face coverings will be required on TfL services as “a condition of carriage”, unless you have a medical reason for exemption. Enforcement officers will be deployed to oversee this rule.
Mainline rail service from Chiswick: The rules are less strict if you’re travelling by mainline train, with face coverings not being enforced. Train operators have argued that trains have windows and are better ventilated than the Underground. Over the weekend, South Western Railway’s website said:
“we will remove advice about social distancing and will expect passengers, out of respect for others, to wear face coverings in crowded places.”
Uber taxis and Uber branded ferries – face masks will continue to be required for both drivers and passengers. Uber has said anyone flouting these rules repeatedly:
“will permanently lose their access to the Uber platform.”
Image above: Library picture of a medical centre
Doctors, Dentists and NHS healthcare sites
Guidance from Public Health England, sent to all hospitals, GP surgeries, dental practices and pharmacies makes it clear that the “optional mask” policy does not apply to healthcare settings. Peter Lwin, Practice Manager of Holly Road Medical Centre just off the High Road, says:
”We’re especially keen on insisting on the wearing of masks when a patient is insisting they want to see doctor or nurse, because of physical contact.”
He says other Covid protocols which will continue include reduced seating in waiting rooms and doctors initially consulting patients over the phone before deciding who needs to have a physical examination.
High Road supermarkets and chains
The Government says it “expects and recommends” that people wear masks in crowded indoor spaces.
Bookshop Waterstones and Boots the chemist say they’ll be encouraging people to continue wearing masks, as are our three High Road supermarkets, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Tesco. However, Sainsbury’s has stipulated that its staff will be allowed to choose not to mask up if they are working behind screens.
The award-winning frozen food business, COOK, on Chiswick Lane, will also continue to ask people to wear masks. It will continue to provide a supply of fresh masks for customers who might have forgotten to bring one along.
The Chiswick High Road interiors shop, Decorexi, Tweeted:
“please continue to wear your masks…to protect our shoppers and staff. Thanking you all in advance for considering others.”
Images above: The Roebuck pub on Chiswick High Rd
Fullers, whose Chiswick pubs include the Bell and Crown, the George IV, the Old Pack Horse and The Pilot, says it’s aiming for “spontaneity and flexibility.” A spokesperson said:
“if you want to wear a mask, pre-book, or be served at your table, that’s fine – but equally we will welcome you if you want to stand at the bar or just turn up on the off chance of bumping into some old friends. The same is true for our teams too – so it will be up to them if they want to wear a mask or not and we will fully support whatever decision they take.”
Josh at the Roebuck emailed customers to say the pub was aiming at striking the “right balance” between loosening up the restrictions and ensuring continued safety and wellbeing. He said they’lll continue to sanitise tables between use, “are still mindful of the spacing of our tables”, and will ensure good ventilation. The email adds that:
“some of our crew and customers alike will choose to carry on wearing a face covering, which we respect.”
Image above: Chiswick Playhouse above the Tabard pub
The new Chiswick Cinema on the High Road is intending to sell tickets from 23 July without socially distanced seats.
Chiswick Playhouse: This small 90 seater venue, currently basking in the glow of a four-star review from The Guardian for its latest production, new musical From Here, was due to return to full capacity audiences on Monday 19 July.
Social distancing is required in the foyer and stairwell and theatregoers are asked to use the NHS Track and Trace app on entry. Increased cleaning protocols remain in place and fogging machines are being used before and after performances to sanitise the theatre. However, face masks will be worn at the audience’s discretion.
Riverside Studios in Hammersmith had also been hoping to lift social distancing measures and move to full capacity audiences. Last week it announced that it was selling extra tickets for the forthcoming Mischief Movie Night In and an August production of The Browning Version directed by, and starring, Sir Kenneth Branagh. But it’s now been announced that The Browning Version run has been cancelled after “Covid-enforced absences” prevented people from attending rehearsals.
In a Tweet, Riverside said “We’re gutted at the news that the BROWNING VERSION has had to cancel their planned August season. We wish the affected cast members well, and a speedy recovery. If you bought tickets to the show you don’t need to do anything – all purchases will be refunded over the coming week”.
On Monday, theatre staff confirmed by phone that it’s hoped that “Mischief Movie Night In” will go ahead this week, but will probably be at half capacity.
The venue also put out a Tweet announcing:
“We have decided to maintain social distancing in all of our cinemas for the time being. We’re committed to being a safe and comfortable venue – and if that means sacrificing a few extra ticket sales, we’re OK with that trade-off”.
In another email sent last week, Riverside Studios said its staff would continue wearing masks and would encourage customers to do the same. It would be keeping many Covid protocols in place, including deep-cleaning. Staff are being tested daily.
Image above: Outdoor gym
Virgin Active which operates the Riverside and Chiswick Business Park Gyms says:
“From 19 July, you’ll no longer be required to wear a face covering in club, however we ask that you respect members who still want to wear them. Similarly, we ask that you respect distance between our other members to make social distancing possible for those who want it.
“Our team will continue to wear masks around (the) club to keep you and our other team members safe.”
Virgin Active says there will be “more space” in kids’and outdoor pools, more outdoor loungers will be added and all pool floats will be brought back. All lockers are being reopened, and tables and chairs reintroduced into lounges to give people more space to relax after their workouts.
The Hogarth Club on the other hand, will require people to wear masks when not actually exercising. Their cafe is now open again and they have decided to keep the pool divided into lanes which are bookable for half hour slots. They are also reopening their sauna, but not the steam room because at 70 – 90 degrees, the sauna is hot enough to kill the virus.
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