Mixed emotions in West Norfolk over national lockdown as businesses offer help
West Norfolk officials have expressed their frustration over the government’s plans to introduce a second national lockdown this week.
The proposed new national restrictions will be debated and voted on by MPs on Wednesday.
If approved, the country will be asked to stay at home from Thursday to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus amid rising national cases.
North West Norfolk MP James Wild supported the introduction of the local Covid alert tiered system as the best alternative to a national lockdown.
He said he will be reviewing the evidence and reflecting on constituents’ views on both sides of the debate ahead of the vote.
Mr Wild said: “While it protected the NHS and saved lives, I know how painful and costly the first lockdown was for people’s wellbeing and our economy.
“The prime minster and the cabinet have now been advised that due to increasing transmission rates across the country there is a serious risk the NHS will be overwhelmed within weeks.
“I am very conscious of the incredible sacrifices people and businesses across North West Norfolk have made to try and control this virus.”
Leader of West Norfolk Council Brian Long said he would have liked to see the local tier measures make a difference before a national lockdown was introduced.
“I am frustrated we have gone to a national lockdown but I appreciate it has to happen,” Mr Long said.
“West Norfolk has been doing pretty well but with numbers starting to increase the additional measures reiterate the government’s message to get the numbers down.”
The council leader emphasised the bottom line behind the lockdown is protecting people from the virus.
And he is confident local businesses will continue to receive the support they need to survive through the government’s rescue package.
Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that the furlough scheme will be reintroduced as part of the lockdown measures in which employees will receive 80 per cent of their regular wages.
West Norfolk’s infection rate as of October 29 stood at 87.9 cases per 100,000 people, after the number of new cases rose from 70 to 133 in the space of a week.
And two new cases were confirmed at Springwood High School today, increasing the total number of cases recorded at the Queensway site since the start of the new academic year to five.
Labour councillor Jo Rust believes the lockdown should have been implemented earlier due to the increase in the transmission rate and number of deaths.
“Sir Keir Starmer asked for a circuit breaker weeks ago. It could have been combined with half term which would have taken the pressure off for families,” Mrs Rust said.
“As it is, we are facing a hard winter of lockdown with no certainty it’ll actually end on December 2nd.”
Mrs Rust believes schools should be shut down with improved IT equipment for home schooling.
The latest lockdown will be less stringent than in March as schools and universities would be able to stay open.
Mrs Rust added: “I’m glad that the 80 per cent furlough scheme has been retained. However, 80 per cent of a low wage when rents, mortgages and all other costs remain the same is going to push many more families to breaking point.
“We saw how many families were struggling to feed their children over half term. As a matter or urgency the government needs to increase its support provision for local councils like our own so we can provide the additional assistance our community will need.
“We’re facing challenges with how we’ll safely accommodate our rough sleepers, there’s an increase in food bank use and the eviction moratorium is over. The government must act now.”
West Norfolk councillor Sandra Squire, leader of the Independents at the county council, echoed these sentiments and stated many businesses will not be able to survive the winter months.
She added: “I think it’s a situation where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. For areas with low infection rates it must seem that they’re almost being punished for what goes on elsewhere.
“It concerns me that the last lockdown took weeks to have an affect and that was when schools were closed.
“Vulnerable people are being told to limit contact with other people and not go to work if they can’t work from home, but they should still send their children to school. There are no easy answers really.”
All non-essential retail, entertainment venues and personal care facilities will be forced to close.
Having recently been supported through the government’s Culture Recovery Fund, Hunstanton’s Princess Theatre now faces another setback like many others.
Proprietor Brian Hallard said: “We are going to have to worry about it on December 2 because there is nothing we can do right now.
“There have been mixed messages. Michael Gove is saying something, then someone else is saying something else.
“I will be getting on with maintenance work because there is not a lot else we can do right now.”
Swaffham landlord Rob Bartram of the Red Lion pub welcomed the furlough scheme being extended but said there was “miscommunication” over pub takeaways.
The Market Place site will continue to offer its rooms out to key workers and lorry drivers as they did during the previous lockdown.
Mr Bartram said: “Our last electric bills were £6,500. How are we going to survive? I do not know but I personally think we will be alright. I am seeing that some wet-let pubs are giving it up.”
Both Mr Bartram and Neal Durose of the White Hart in Lynn believe the decision to allow students to return to schools and universities proved costly.
Mr Bartram said: “People are going to be naive and pathetic if they think this will be over by December. The figures are going through the roof through youngsters all over the country.
“I am prepared for no family Christmas this year.”
Mr Durose added: “If I’m completely honest, it hasn’t come as much of a surprise. It was always going to be obvious that no matter what measure were put in place, the spike in cases was inevitable once the schools and colleges went back.
“I know some people will disagree with me but the statistics don’t lie. The pubs reopen on July 4: no spike in cases. Eat Out to Help Out throughout August: not many cases. September, the education sector resumes and cases rose exponentially.
“You were always going to be safer in the pub than the supermarket but you can’t change what’s been placed on us.
“We are determined to survive and come out the other side stronger and ready to welcome everyone back with open arms.”
The Duck Inn at Stanhoe has pledged to offer its services for free throughout November to anyone who needs support.
And the White Hart in Swaffham will also continue to support the vulnerable through its ‘Hart to Homes’ meal delivery service.
A social media post by the pub said: "From Wednesday night we will close our doors, until then we are very much open for business
"We will miss you all and give our heartfelt thanks for the support you have given us since we reopened."
Elsewhere, it will be business as usual on the pitch for King’s Lynn Town FC as elite sport, including the National League, will be able to continue.
Golf clubs have been lobbying to remain open for members to be able to play during lockdown as they believe it can be done safely as a form of exercise.
Graham Cocker, secretary of Fakenham Golf Club, said: “If you can exercise in a park with one person, you can do it on a golf course because you are not going to come up against anyone else through 10 minute intervals.”
He said it would be a shame for members not to be able to play having already paid their annual fees. Greenkeepers will continue to maintain the golf course regardless of cost.
Alive West Norfolk has announced its sites will close from the end of the day on Wednesday until further notice in line with government guidance.
A statement says Alive West Norfolk has collected November membership and courses fees already and will also collect payments from those who usually pay their direct debit on the 15th.
December direct debit payments will then not be collected when the sites reopen.
Alive swimming pools will not be closing in December as it stands according to the statement as would normally be the case in normal circumstances for annual maintenance.
The Alive statement added: "We understand it is extremely frustrating that leisure venues are having to close again but the safety and welfare of our customers and staff is paramount. We would like to thank you all for adhering to our Covid processes so well since we returned in July which has kept our sites extremely safe."
Meanwhile, national papers reported this weekend that Prince William had coronavirus while staying in April with the Duchess of Cambridge and his three young children at Anmer Hall, on the Sandringham Estate.
It was reported that he did not want publicity on the matter as it came shortly after his father, Prince Charles, and PM Boris Johnson had announced they had it and feared he would be stoking public fears of the virus.