Freedom Day: the North West reacts to the lifting of Covid restrictions

People across the North West are getting to grips with the most significant easing of restrictions since the pandemic began 16 months ago.Social-distancing rules ended at one minute past midnight, while legal requirements to wear masks have also been dropped.

But the region's Metro Mayors are urging caution and demanding the wearing of face coverings to continue on public transport and in confined spaces.

Public health officials are also calling on people to act cautiously and look out for each other, as seven areas in the North West are currently recording record-high case rates.

David Regan, Director of Public Health for Manchester

David Regan, Director of Public Health for Manchester, said: "It's not just about your own individual behaviour, it's the people who may be at risk who are next to you.

"We still have many clinically extremely vulnerable people out there, people who have yet to be vaccinated.

"So we want to make sure that people understand that although the restrictions will change we can still do the right thing by our communities."

What are the new rules?

Those using Merseyrail were still wearing masks after Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram urging caution and recommended they still be worn.

At railway stations, mandatory messaging has been replaced with advice.

Those travelling on Merseyrail said they were cautious, with many adding they were wearing masks out of consideration for others.

Merseyrail can no longer force people to wear masks, and can instead only strongly advise they do.

It is a similar message on the buses where passengers are still taking stock of the changes.

One said: "It is a big responsibility. I got on the bus this morning and I thought if it was empty, I wouldn't have minded not wearing my mask but there was quite a lot of people."

Another added: "I suffer from COPD and asthma, so if I get on a bus or go to Tesco or anywhere, even when I'm in work, I still wear my mask."

Lockdown rules in England: What's changing from July 19

What has happened to social distancing and the rule of six?

The 'one metre plus' rule has been scrapped entirely, as of July 19 in England. However, some guidance to maintain social distancing in certain situations will remain in place of the legal restrictions.

Social distancing guidance will continue if someone is Covid positive and self-isolating, or in airports, or other ports of entry, to avoid travellers arriving from amber or red-list countries mixing with those from green list areas.

Limits on social contact in England have disappeared, meaning the end of the rule of six indoors and the limit of 30 people for outdoor gatherings.

Do I still need to wear a face mask?

There is now no legal requirements to wear face coverings - but guidance still encourages using masks in some settings, including hospitals, healthcare settings and in crowded enclosed public spaces.

Has the working from home guidance changed?

The guidance on working from home has gone. It's ultimately down to employers to decide whether to keep staff at home or in the office, but the government say employers are able to plan the return of staff to the workplace.

What about weddings and funerals?

The current limits on numbers of people who can attend weddings, funerals and other life events has ended.

What's happening in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

The changes to Covid rules announced by Boris Johnson, only impact England and will not change regulations in Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland.

The Welsh Government “would like to move together” with other parts of the UK in lifting coronavirus restrictions but will only do so if it is “right for Wales”, health minister Eluned Morgan said on Monday 5 July.

As of July 19, restrictions in Scotland have eased, with all areas of the country moving to level 0. The government is aiming to lift all major restrictions in Scotland by August 9.

In Northern Ireland, some significant restrictions have already been eased including allowing the resumption of live music and the lifting of caps on organised outdoor gatherings.

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Shopkeepers are also making their own rules now that legal restrictions have been dropped.

Kat Monaghan, from Adam's Apple grocers in Atherton in Liverpool, says life has not gotten any easier despite the so-called freedom day.

She says: "Now we can't really enforce the mask rule so we respect that it's people's choice - but it does make it a little harder for us."

Next door at Clarke's Butchers, Victoria Clarke, says her team are trying to take precautions to mitigate against not wearing masks.

"I'm quite happy not to wear a mask. I may still wear a visor. And we did have screens up which we've taken down," she says.

"But what we are going to hope to do is have staff tested twice weekly."

The reopening of nightclubs has also been a major milestone after they closed in March 2020.

Owner of 42nd Street Nightclub Alan Maskell says they have to trust their customers to be honest to help stop the spread of the virus.

They have recruited extra staff and introduced a new ventilation thought to be one of the first in a nightclub that extracts bacteria from the atmosphere inside the club.

The travel industry has also seen the negative effects of the pandemic and Covid restrictions, with those going abroad few and far between.

Jill Waite, owner of Pole Travel in Failsworth in Manchester, has sent just 10 people abroad this year.

She says consumer confidence is at an “all time low” with many confused by the multiple rules, regulations and testing regimes to follow.

Paul Staples, Director of Operations at Liverpool John Lennon Airport, says the relaxation of quarantine rules for those who are double jabbed is helping improve confidence.

He said: "People have seen countries go from green to amber and back again quite quickly.

"I think now the fact that you don't have to quarantine from the amber countries has helped and is providing some confidence now."

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