This article was written by Damian and published in the Herald group of papers on 2nd July:
For millions of people across England, the reopening of much of the hospitality sector from next weekend will be very welcome news indeed – the chance for time at a favourite pub or restaurant, a visit to cinema or museum, an overnight stay at a B&B or campsite, and of course that much anticipated haircut.
These are just some of the regular things that we have not been able to do for more than three months, and now seem extraordinary treats to look forward to.
And because all of these businesses will need to ensure their premises and services are Covid-19 secure, the experience will be a little different at some places and very different at others.
So, from the 4th July, you can visit pubs, bars and restaurants for table service indoors, with disposable menus, preference for contactless payment and no gathering at a bar to order drinks. You will also be asked for your contact details to help with any potential contact tracing.
From that date you will also be able to stay away from home by visiting hotels, holiday lets, campsites and caravan parks. Trips to cinemas, museums and galleries will also be possible.
Funfairs, theme parks, adventure parks, amusement arcades, model villages, outdoor gyms will also be allowed to open their doors. Along with the zoos, aquariums, farms, safari parks and wildlife centres that reopened from 15th June.
You can get your hair cut at a salon or barber, and weddings will be allowed to take place with a maximum of 30 guests. And from the 6th July, you can also resume taking driving lessons.
Places of worship have already been open for private prayer, but the changes will mean more of the congregation can attend, albeit without singing.
And as we head towards the summer break, families can now plan trips abroad to a number of countries without the need for a 14 day quarantine when they return.
It’s not clear yet whether Petersfield Library, Community Centre or playgrounds in and around the town will be reopened just yet, as risk assessments will need to be completed and protocols for visitors put in place.
With non-essential retail outlets already open, the centre of our towns will really begin to breathe once again, with its mix of popular eateries, boutiques and independent shops. Outlets will see more visitors return to shop and browse; something which is so important for the life of our town centres.
But the fact that the easing of these measures coincides with celebrations for Independence Day across the Atlantic may seem a little ironic, as we see news reports of regional outbreaks and new lockdowns happening across the US. And closer to home, we see the action now needed in Leicester.
And that should be a stark reminder to us all of the risks involved if we do not adhere to the measures that remain in place. At its simplest, the advice is still to maintain a 2m distance from others outside your household wherever possible, or at least 1m if you can mitigate the risk.
Physical distancing is still one of the most important ways to help reduce the spread of the virus. There is evidence that the risk of transmission does increase at 1m compared to 2m, but mitigations are judged to reduce the level of risk to be broadly equivalent to being 2m apart.
And this has been the operating principle for the sectors that have remained open throughout the lockdown and must remain so for the sectors about to reopen on the 4th July, but also for all of us as individuals.
So, although the level of infection and community transmission has now fallen - so reducing the overall risk within the population - how you catch the virus has not changed: through physical contact with an infectious person or droplets from their breath, or if you touch a surface contaminated and then touch your nose, eyes or mouth.
That is why it remains important to limit the number of people you are in closer contact with, and to follow some simple rules: try to avoid public transport (or at least peak travel), sit or stand side by side or behind other people, meet outdoors rather than indoors, avoid touching surfaces and then your face, wear a face covering on public transport (a legal requirement) or in environments that it is difficult to maintain a 2m distance, including some shops.
And of course, that is in addition to the regular handwashing and cough etiquette that remain essential habits for everyone. The clear advice to stay home if at all symptomatic, or if a member of your household is symptomatic, is very important as is the need to then get tested to allow contact tracing if the result is positive.
And how long this period of easing lasts will depend on how we all act and stick to the guidance. If outbreaks occur or there are signs of a developing spike in infections, action will need to be taken to control the spread.
So, as you head to a favourite pub, visit one of our lovely local attractions, or indeed venture further afield, remaining vigilant is key.