Don’t let lockdown’s mixed messages alienate public as retail resumes – Jayne Dowle

EXCUSE me if I contain my excitement. I know I’m supposed to celebrate because I can go to the pub – if I’d been bothered enough to book an outside table weeks ago – visit the hairdresser (some hope) or go shopping in town.

What will the reopening of shops mean for high streets and town centres as the lockdown is eased?

High street sales are tipped to surge by up to 50 per cent today, say retail analysts Springboard, as shoppers are expected to make a rush for town centres and out of town shopping malls.

This is good news for retailers, obviously. And long-term, for the future of trade in our towns, cities and villages in cold storage for so much of this long, hard winter.

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Whilst my main priority is to replenish the every-day clothes, which I’ve worn so much since Christmas they are literally falling into holes, I’m reserving judgement on the great leap forward to liberty.

Do you trust Boris Johnson over the easing of the lockdown? Jayne Dowle does not.

Freedom, such as it is, comes with a great number of caveats, not least of which is a lack of faith in the Prime Minister and his Cabinet to create a firm foundation and sing from the same hymn sheet. The evidence so far has hardly been reassuring.

Boris Johnson has told us that we are moving towards “some semblance of normality” by June, when it is planned to lift most of the social distancing rules still in place. What does this mean and how is it being laid out as a debate continues to be held over ‘vaccine passports’?

For instance, people are still being encouraged to work from home where possible, and to minimise domestic travel. In the same breath, we’re also told that we are permitted to stay away from home in self-contained holiday accommodation, as long as we are all in the same household bubble.

I understand that the gradual return to what will pass for ‘normal’ has by its nature, to be piecemeal. We can’t run before we can walk and all that. However, like so much policy directed towards the pandemic, it seems to be built on shifting sands. This constant vacillation comes from the very top.

What will the reopening of shops mean for high streets and town centres as the lockdown is eased?

On the one hand, we’re told we’re beating the virus and (almost) leading the world in the vaccine roll-out. On the other, we’re warned that we’re not out of the woods yet and that coronavirus presents a serious danger to British life for years to come. If the Government message is confused and at odds, what hope for the rest of us?

We’re informed that we will be expected to submit to twice-weekly lateral flow Covid tests – which everybody knows by now are notorious for returning high numbers of false positive results – without addressing the financial support many workers are still not entitled to if they are required to self-isolate from work.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock clearly has not copied Chancellor Rishi Sunak into this particular memo. Is it any wonder that the Royal College of Psychiatrists warns that England is “in the grip of a mental health crisis” because of the Covid pandemic? I would be interested to know if the psychiatrists have a name for this new condition, in which you’re expected to believe one thing, follow the rules, then find that all the pieces have been thrown up in the air yet again.

I’m wondering if perhaps it should be called ‘Alice in Wonderland syndrome’. Or ‘Boris disorder’. The fundamental problem is that we are expected to believe a man who has made a career, indeed a life, out of sleight of hand. His perception of ‘normal’ was already skewed, long before the pandemic got the country in its grip.

In his grand announcement press conference, from the faux-splendour of the new £2.6m Downing Street media bunker, the Prime Minister dampened down hopes that foreign holidays may be permissible again from May 17, stating that he was nervous about the virus being “reimported” from abroad.

When he said this, I did wonder why almost 50 per cent of the population has now bothered to swallow their trepidation and have a vaccine dose, and almost 10 per cent are now fully vaccinated. Over the last 12 months however, I’ve learned to let such rational lines of questioning pass.

Then four days later, up popped a perky Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, proudly unveiling a rerun of the complex and constantly-changing so-called traffic light system for foreign holidays. After the farce of last summer, who really wants to try and fathom this out in addition to Covid tests and possible periods of quarantine?

If this is what Mr Johnson’s “semblance of normality” looks like, I think I’ll stay at home for a bit. Sorry, but the shops, beer gardens and hairdressers will be busy enough as it is.