Boris ‘vilifying’ pubs with new covid rules
The Government has “vilified” the town’s pubs with its new tier two local lockdown which came into force yesterday (Wednesday).
That’s the view of landlord Matt Oliver-Eaton, who co-runs the Cheshire Tavern, on West Road.
He said while Congleton was now in the high covid risk category (tier 2) which means pubs were not required to close, he said he was worried fewer people would visit “out of fear”.
Boris Johnson announced on Monday that the country would be divided into three tiers with stricter restrictions for those living in tiers two and three. Cheshire East falls into tier two and it is hoped that new restrictions will prevent the further spread of the virus in the borough, which has recently experienced an uptick in infection levels.
The new rules now in force across the borough mean people must not socialise indoors with anybody from outside their household or support bubble. This applies, for example, to going inside at a friend’s or family member’s house or meeting people from outside their household in an indoor public space. It also applies to meeting with people from outside their household inside a pub or restaurant. This is no longer allowed.
“The rule of six” still applies in outdoor spaces. This means that people from different households can meet in a group of up to six people outside, including in private gardens, beer gardens and alfresco dining, or other spaces, like beaches or parks, (other than where specific exemptions apply). However, the 2m distance rule must still be observed.
Mr Oliver-Eaton said: “To be honest, I would have preferred the Government to have announced that they were going to shut us completely because I would rather be shut than continue to operate the way we are now.
“Our footfall has dropped by around 70% in the last four weeks and that has been reflected in our finances – our income has dropped by about 60%.
“We are stuck in a position similar to the one we were in just before the last lockdown in March. The Government was saying not to go in the pubs but they didn’t tell them to shut because they didn’t want to have to cover the cost. It had a devastating effect for us.
“I feel that the Government is vilifying pubs unfairly. We’re losing customers because of fear. They’re being told that pubs are the worst place to go, when in fact pubs are some of the best places for social distancing and cleanliness, and it’s also the best industry for the track and trace system to work.”
He added: “We’ve been set a mountain of work by the Government but at the same time have been given the harshest punishments.”
The leader of Cheshire East Council, Coun Sam Corcoran, said that he was pleased that legislation granted the authority additional powers over establishments that were not complying with the rules, but said that he was “disappointed” the borough had not been consulted on the tier two restrictions.
Coun Corcoran said yesterday (Wednesday): ““We are still seeing a rising rate of infection in Cheshire East, and we must all do what we can to slow the spread of the virus.
“I would like to thank everyone who has worked so hard and sacrificed so much to fight covid-19. Without your positive action we would be in a much worse situation.
“Today, the rate of positive cases for the previous seven days for Cheshire East was 158 per 100,000 population. This is above the England average of 150.1/100,000 cases.
“We only learned of the tier two measures shortly before the prime minister’s announcement yesterday and did not have detailed information regarding the regulations until later. So, we need to take some time to fully understand how the new measures will impact Cheshire East’s residents, businesses and communities.”
Meanwhile, community leaders have argued that residents’ mental health must be a priority for those living in isolation as the pandemic continues to spread across the area.
The town council’s Community and Environment Committee regularly hears updates on the effects of the virus in the town.
Women’s Equality Party Coun Kay Wesley, who chairs the committee, told the Chronicle that she was most concerned for two groups living under the new rules: elderly people in isolation and victims of domestic abuse.
The said: “The big challenge here in Congleton has to be mental health, particularly adults’ mental health now that younger people are back in education and are less of a worry.
“There is a huge elderly population in Cheshire East – the borough is above average for its proportion of elderly people compared to other areas in the country, and Congleton itself is above average among the towns in Cheshire East for the size of its elderly population.
“Of course they can still go to the shops, but what they cannot have is company in their houses and that will have a big impact, particularly on single elderly people of which we have a huge cohort in Congleton.
“There is information for mental health support on the Congleton Town Council website under the covid section, as well as links to various resources and the Government guidance.”
Coun Wesley also expressed concern for people living with domestic abuse now that mixing indoors is prohibited.
“Survivors of domestic abuse may be somewhat more confined so there is less scope for people to access the peer support that is important for families living like that,” she said.
“The town council has supported more domestic abuse services in Congleton and we have been working with the charity Cheshire Without Abuse to run monthly clinics at the Old Saw Mill, on Back River Street.
“As a result of additional funding secured for the town, the charity has also ramped up its services and started calling people in their homes.”
Of the new tier two measures, Coun Wesley said: “That’s the price we have to pay if the numbers go up, and they have gone up in Cheshire East and Congleton. We do not want to move into the ‘very high’ level where pubs and restaurants have to close, so we must listen to the rules so we can go back to the ‘medium’ level.
“Congleton people have generally exhibited a great deal of common sense and have been quite careful. The caution of people in the town shows that they are anxious and that they do not want to be spreading this devastating virus so I think they will understand the restrictions, even if they don’t appreciate them.”
Congleton’s mayor, Conservative Coun Sally Ann Holland, said: “As a town, we cannot dispute that the number of covid cases are rising significantly. We all have a joint responsibility to follow the Government guidelines and take proactive steps to limit the spread of the virus.
“I urge all our residents to follow the guidance at this very difficult time to protect themselves, safeguard the vulnerable and stay safe.”