Pubs and restaurants were last night celebrating the announcement that they will be able to open up their doors again from next Wednesday.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed yesterday (Wednesday) that the Island will become a Tier 1 area – just one of three in England, covering one per cent of the population – as Lockdown Two restrictions start to be relaxed. Churches, gyms and close-contact beauty services like hairdressers will be able to open in all tiers, but on the Island there will be more freedom for hospitality and entertainment venues.
John Nicholson, chairman of Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), Isle of Wight, said: “This is great news. The virus has never really taken off on the Island and it’s a credit to our pub landlords who have worked so hard to make sure the measures they implemented have paid off. It’s also sensible to extend closing time to 11pm and it’s just the first step to us getting back to a civilised society.
“Pubs are more than just about drinking. They can be vital for the wellbeing of single men who don’t like to talk about emotional issues but who can get together with a couple of friends and have a chat; it’s an essential component of their lives.”
Announcing the measures Mr Hancock paid tribute to the country’s three Tier 1 areas and thanked them for their ‘vigilance’. He said: “The lowest case rates are in Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and the Isles of Scilly, which will go into Tier 1.
“In all three areas, they’ve had very low case rates throughout. I want to thank residents for being so vigilant during the whole pandemic.”
Dave Stewart, Leader of the IW Council, said: “This is excellent news for the Island and reflects all the hard work that everybody has put in to keep the community safe. We now have to stay the course and make sure that we remain in Tier 1. In that respect the only way is up – and we must avoid that at all costs.
“We will continue working with the ferry companies to seek to ensure that people who travel to the Island comply with the rules. We will also be looking at ways in which we can support our local businesses and our high streets in the run-up to Christmas and beyond. They, and we, need a good Christmas. Shop local and help local, that is the message I want to get across.”
Island MP, Bob Seely, added: “This is a sensible approach and a recognition of the fact that not only do we have relatively low infection rates on the Island, but our separation by sea from the mainland acts as a natural barrier to the spread of the virus.
“Island businesses have suffered as a result of the second lockdown. I hope that those that have been forced to close will now reopen and I hope that for those Islanders now doing their Christmas shopping, we will do our best to support local Island-owned businesses.”
One business which is celebrating is The Vine, St Helens, which was recently taken over by business partners Liam White and Simon Cant. When the announcement was made, they were busy redecorating the pub in preparation for reopening, having originally been forced to close after just eight days trading.
Liam said: “We took over the pub and within a week or so Lockdown Two happened. We have spent the last month redecorating, sanding down the wooden floors and reupholstering the furniture.
“It means we can show people what we are about. We want to give The Vine a new lease of life and keep this historic village inn part of the local community.”
Restaurants were also breathing a sigh of relief with the owner of Cucina in Yarmouth, admitting it would have been difficult to continue trading if higher lockdown restrictions were in place.
Constantin Balan said: “I was really worried we would not be able to remain open in the build-up to Christmas, so this is a huge relief.
“We have been offering a takeaway service but it’s been very slow. But it’s still going to be hard work because we can’t have Christmas parties. I’m hoping we will have a good December, but everything is uncertain.
“We would certainly have struggled to survive if we had still been in lockdown in January.”
The announcement could not have come at a better time for another pub The Old Village Inn, Bembridge, which has undergone a £250,000 refurbishment. Owner Jay Chapman said: “During Lockdown One we suffered a structural collapse inside the pub and we have had to completely redesign it. We were already a bit ahead of the game, outside, because we set up a festival style area fitted with pods. So, we were able to stay open right the way through into September while the work continued inside.
“We plan to reopen on Wednesday afternoon, but it would have been a disaster if we had stayed shut. We lost £30,000 of stock and food with Lockdown One and around £8,000 with Lockdown Two. There has been a sense of weariness about the whole thing.
“But this is really great news, we’re lucky to be in this position and we must make sure we don’t abuse it.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said yesterday evening: “Your tier is not your destiny”, as restrictions will be reviewed each week. That will have given hope to many areas, but should be treated as a note of caution on the Island.