Following the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus strain, mandatory masks have made a legally enforceable returned in every shop and on public transport.
From 4am today (November 30), it became law to wear a mask in all stores and on buses, trains and in taxis due to the new strain of Covid-19 which, for the large part, we know nothing about.
And with the grim memories of last Christmas and Covid restrictions in the not too distant past, LancsLive asked local business owners in West Lancs for their views on how the new measures could affect them.
Some said they would not enforce the return of legally enforceable masks.
We also asked spoke to hospitality businesses about their thoughts on the measures being extended to their industry.
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We visited a range of shops and hospitality venues and asked staff what they thought of the impact of the new restrictions in the run up to Christmas.
The new steps have been greeted with a mixture of reactions from staff on the ground, with most saying they back the return of masks if it keeps people safe - and all saying they would not relish any further lockdowns. Staff in hospitality venues believe mandatory masks could follow in their premises - and are eyeing the situation with a mixture of trepidation and pragmatism.
Carl Sixsmith, sales manager at Stoker’s Furniture in Ormskirk, said staff would have ‘no problem’ with the new rules, and highlighted how it was case of ‘one step at a time’.
He said: “From tomorrow, we will be asking all customers to wear masks."
Asked for his thoughts on the potential impact on business in the run up to Christmas, or even a further lockdown, he said: “We don’t know with things like this. We have got to see how it goes. Hopefully there will not be further restrictions, but you just don’t know. It’s best not to look forward and just take it one step at a time.”
However, other retailers were ‘not happy’.
Dasa Sajgalova, who works at Cappy, a convenience store selling eastern European food in Digmoor Shopping Parade in Skelmersdale, said she thought mask wearing should be down to personal choice.
She said: “I’m not happy about the new restrictions. I think people should still have the choice and if somebody wants to wear a mask, they can. I will not be making customers wear masks and I don’t feel I should be telling people what they should do.
“Everybody should have a choice when they come in, and I will serve them when they come in with a mask or without a mask; for me it’s no different. I hope there will not be another lockdown, but they change everything all the time, so you never know.”
Staff at Picasso Hair Studio in Ormskirk said the measures were ‘sensible’ - but only if everyone stuck to the guidelines.
Hairdresser Clare Wissett said: “It’s sensible, isn’t it? Masks are the best thing we can do to protect people. It would be good if everyone stuck to it this time.”
Her colleague, Becky Williams, agreed, adding: “If we want to keep businesses open and kids in school, everyone needs to follow it. Some people think its optional – but it does protect people. No one wants another lockdown.”
Andrew Foster, owner of Hype retail on Church Street in Ormskirk said it was ‘not ideal’ but added: “I think business will get better and people keep local - that is what happened last time. People stayed local rather than going into the city centre. We would not like to see another lockdown but if it saves lives and helps the NHS, we will do whatever we are told. It is not ideal for retail.”
Katie Woods, owner of Katie Rose Florist in Whalley, thought it was contradictory that mask wearing was not being extended to pubs and restaurants.
She said: "A lot of our clients are elderly and we are happy to wear masks and visors anyway. I find it a bit silly that you can come into a shop like this, that's really airy and where there's lots of space, but then you can go into a crowded pub down the road. They need to do masks in hospitality settings as well."
Janet Wright, manageress at Maureen’s Fabrics in Ormskirk thought it was ‘necessary’ and said most of her customers had continued mask wearing anyway.
She said: “It’s necessary isn’t it, if we are getting this new strain. I don’t think this will have an impact on business. Most people are sensible and still wearing masks. We were serving at the front door in the second lockdown, but the first lockdown was frightening.”
Her views were backed by a hairdresser at a salon who did not wish to be named, but who was busy scrubbing the chairs to keep it clean, who said: "The owner has told me that she believes this place would not survive another lockdown."
Meanwhile, some hospitality venues said that while the new rules did not affect them for the time being, business could be affected if rates started to go up.
Tom Trill, co-owner of Bramleys Coffee House in Ormskirk said while the new measures did not affect hospitality for the time being, they could be brought in if rates started to spike.
He said: “This doesn’t affect us at the moment, but if rates start to spike, I imagine people will get wary and not come in, which will affect trade. We don’t really want that because we have only just about recovered from the lockdown but obviously, the health of people does come first.
“The way I see it, if they are going to put restrictions on retail, they have to do hospitality as well we are going to see how it goes over the next couple of weeks.”
Highlighting that Bramleys had kept its Covid safety screens between tables and ensured its tables were socially distanced, he said he did not welcome the prospect of a further lockdown.
But if it did happen, the restaurant would do deliveries and takeways of afternoon tea, as before.
He added: “If it all starts happening again, maybe the government could look at more support for businesses.”
Sue Fury, who works at The Buck i'Th' Vine on Burscough Street, said: “It must be real because people are dying with it. I don’t think masks would affect business. I mean, do you want to catch an infection?”
She was opposed to another lockdown, and pointed out the mental health risks, adding: “It puts you into depression because you can’t move, and you’re stuck there. It’s your mental health, isn’t it?”
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