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Blackburn shoppers and business owners on ‘Freedom Day’

AS almost all of the remaining coronavirus restrictions have been lifted across England, Blackburn town centre was largely back to how it was pre-pandemic.

While the Government and some businesses are urging people to maintain their use of face coverings in enclosed spaces, there is no legal obligation to do so ­— with social distancing also scrapped.

One man enjoying the new-found freedoms is Yaz Khan, who owns the Emporium IV clothes shop on Town Hall Street.

He said: “It’s about time, it should have been sooner. Nothing has been straight forward from the beginning, we just have to let this happen now. You’ve got to let people live their lives.

“We’ve had businesses struggling. None of the regulations have been simple, let’s put it that way. If they had been, we could comply, but it hasn’t been.

“Clubs couldn’t open up but other venues could have tens of thousands of people congregating. None of it has made any sense. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, not at all. I just have a grievance with policies that don’t make sense. Businesses from Ibiza to Blackburn would tell you they’ve not exactly been crystal clear.

“I don’t have hundreds of people coming in here every day like the big superstores do. We’re not a danger to the public. If you’ve been vaccinated, great, but it’ll take its time to work. Let’s have faith in it. It’s not rocket science. This has been a long time coming. I’m really excited about today, it’s a huge step forward.

“We’ve been busy thank God, and on Town Hall Street we all work together, like a big family. It’s been great getting people back in and if my customers don’t want to wear a mask then they don’t have to.”

Walking around The Mall today, many shoppers had opted to keep wearing face masks indoors, with some still opting to do so outdoors.

On Mincing Lane, family-run Passerini Barbers are pleased to see the end of the restrictions, and said that some rules had made their jobs much harder to do.

Luigi Passerini said: “We’re pleased the restrictions have been lifted, of course. It’s been difficult wearing masks and visors when communicating with clients, it has hindered the job in many ways. Sometimes we couldn’t hear what our clients were saying and it was a bit of a nightmare at times.

“We’ve been operating a one-way system with QR codes and all that kind of stuff, it has been difficult. I had brand new flooring put down not long ago and I took a step back and thought ‘ah, look at that, it looks great’, then I had to stick a load of yellow tape down everywhere to comply with the regulations. The thing is, you never know what the future holds so for the time being, there’s no real reason to take it off.”

Joe Passerini added: “As for people wearing masks, it’s up to them now. It’s up to the people to decide what makes them feel safe and they’re entitled to do that. But yeah, we’re glad we’re back to something like normal service.”

Andy Joss, who owns The Rock Box bar in the town centre, said: “I think it’s good. We’ve still got to be a bit cautious and I don’t think people wearing masks in The Mall is a bad thing, it’s probably a good idea. But the restrictions easing for us means we can get more people in our bar and start recouping some of the money we’ve lost over the pandemic.”

A young couple soaking up the sunshine outside The Mall are pleased to see the remaining restrictions lifted and normal life resume, though want to wait for further information on vaccines before taking up the jab.

One said: “We’re completely fine with not wearing a mask indoors if you don’t want to. It’s been too long now, even if every last person in the country has had the vaccine, coronavirus will still be around.

“We just have to get on with it. I think the restrictions being lifted is a good thing but people still have the freedom to do as they please when it comes to keeping themselves safe. That’s absolutely fine.

“The onus being on the public now is good in a way. It’s been a long time, if you think we’ve been living under restrictions since March. I’d say we’re positive about today’s changes. If people still want to wear a mask, fair play to them, but I don’t think everyone should have to.”

On vaccines, the couple said that “you only ever get one side of the story in the news”, and they had been put off in part down to the side effects associated with some jabs – however, they did not rule out getting the vaccine once more research into the after effects have been conducted.

A woman in her 70s said she would continue to wear a mask both indoors and outdoors, and that “the government have gone too quick, what with cases rising through the roof again”.

A middle-aged couple, who have both been jabbed, were out shopping in the centre but one decided not to go indoors for fears over his health.

He said: “I’m clinically vulnerable so I’ve been staying out of the way. The wife’s been shopping and I’ve just stayed outside and waited. It’ll be a long time I think until I’m ready to go into a pub or shopping centre.

“It’s too dangerous for me. I think for myself, with the lockdown it’s brought people a lot closer together, without a doubt. People talk a lot more, they’re a lot friendlier. In that respect, lockdowns have done a lot of good.

“I think the restrictions had to end at some point, so why not now. To be fair to the Government, it’s an unknown this, we’ve never been through it before, so only time will tell if this was the right move.”

The man’s wife said: “I’ve had my mask on indoors then took it off as I’ve come out into the open air. We’ve lived in our area for 30 years and there’s folk I’ve never seen before who now stop and talk. They never did before, and that’s both young and old people. I hope that sense of community doesn’t go away.”