Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Customers stick with masks as rules ease

Customers stick with masks as rules ease

MOST customers of shops, pubs, restaurants and other Henley businesses are still wearing face masks even though it is no longer mandatory.

Restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus were relaxed in England on Monday, which some have dubbed “Freedom Day”, so people don’t have to cover their face indoors, observe social distancing or gather in groups of no more than six.

But traders say the majority have continued to cover up because they are concerned by the growing number of covid-19 cases both in South Oxfordshire and nationally.

None have forced clients to do so but some strongly encourage it whereas others have said nothing and allowed them to make their own minds up.

Lorraine Hillier, who runs the Hot Gossip coffee shop in Reading Road, Henley, is still asking her staff to cover their faces because the premises are small.

She hasn’t increased the number of tables and has kept up the partitions separating them.

Miss Hillier said: “Most people are coming in with masks on because a high number still want to be careful. I understand how some might be concerned but it’s hard to say anything to anyone or start policing things. I think they just need to use common sense.”

Staff at the Laurence menswear shop in Duke Street, Henley, are no longer wearing masks but will do so if a customer requests it.

Owner Laurence Morris said most people were still wearing face coverings.

He said: “I wouldn’t be surprised if the hot weather deters more people. I can’t ask someone to wear a mask to satisfy somebody else so if anyone is uncomfortable, they will just have to keep their distance or leave.

“We’ve still got our screen up and still sanitise surfaces regularly as well as testing ourselves for covid-19. Social distancing isn’t an issue because most people are in that habit anyway.”

Joe Ball, landlord of the Bull on Bell Street in Henley said the pub had
reintroduced bar service but most people were still ordering at tables.

Most were wearing masks but again this is not enforced and nor is signing in using the NHS Track and Trace app although it is encouraged.

For now, Mr Ball will not move tables closer together to create more seating indoors but will instead add more in the beer garden.

He said: “All our staff are wearing masks and we’ll be keeping that up for at least a month before we review the guidance and see how people feel generally. The last few days have shown that most people want to wear them.

“I don’t know if that’s just force of habit or whether it makes them feel safe but we’ve all seen the increased number of cases locally so that could be part of it.”

Customers at the Hart Street Tavern in Henley are being asked to wear masks when not at their tables but there is no pressure to do so.

It has returned to its usual indoor capacity of between 65 and 70 covers but will reduce this if a customer feels more comfortable with a bigger gap between tables.

Head waiter Carl Edlund said: “We’re able to use our tables a little bit more so we’ve gained some extra capacity. Our premises are quite spacious so we’re lucky we can still separate people.

“Most people are pretty vocal about what they’d prefer and we try to organise everything around that where we can. If we have to lose one or two tables we’re not going to complain.”

The Crooked Billet pub and restaurant in Stoke Row is still following the same hygiene procedures including socially distancing tables.

Joint manager Simon Rumsby said: “We haven’t changed anything on our side and most customers are still wearing masks as they’re pretty apprehensive but if people don’t want to we won’t force them.

“In that sense, nothing feels any different compared to last week. We’re doing as much as we can to stay safe without trying to police anything that isn’t a legal requirement.”

The Kenton Theatre in New Street, Henley, is now taking capacity crowds of up to 241 where previously it could only take 66 guests.

However, all other measures remain in place and customers are expected to wear masks.

General manager Simon Spearing said: “We didn’t feel comfortable going from having all these restrictions to nothing and it wasn’t fair on our team, who have no choice in being exposed to these risks.

“Returning to full capacity while keeping all other restrictions feels like a sensible middle ground.

“We had a sell-out show last weekend with a crowd of just 66 and that didn’t make money. It isn’t just about that but we’ve got to stay viable.”

The Mill dinner theatre in Sonning is asking customers to wear masks and sanitises the auditorium between performances. It will limit numbers if the show is likely to attract an elderly audience.

Managing director Sally Hughes said: “Most of our safety measures are staying because that’s what our team wanted.

“They’ll remain until everybody is fully vaccinated later in the year. I just wish the Government had kept masks mandatory because it creates scope for arguments if customers have opposing views.”

The Fitness Space gym in Station Road, Henley, no longer asks customers to wear masks in the waiting area but all other measures remain in place including a limit of 24 customers inside and group classes taking place outdoors.

People no longer have to book using an online app but may be turned away if all spaces are gone.

Co-owner Joanne John said: “‘Freedom Day’ is a lovely phrase but we have to be honest with ourselves about what’s going on with the covid figures.

“As a business owner, I feel responsible for keeping my customers well and don’t want to make anyone ill through being complacent. My customers are completely behind it — some still need a nudge to wipe down equipment after using it but we’ve got a lot of support.”

Henley Mayor Sarah Miller said she would continue wearing a mask in crowded public places such as supermarkets and public transport.

She said: “It’s a tricky one because you can’t make people wear them but there are certain situations where you can’t avoid brushing up against people.

“You’re got to let everyone make their own mind up but I’d advise it because when you look at the figures I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet.

“It looks to me like people in Henley are being cautious and that’s a good thing — it’s certainly reassuring when you get to my age.”

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