Events planned and businesses reopening across West Berkshire following relaxation of coronavirus restrictions
More than 125 public events are being planned across the district as the country continues to emerge from the national coronavirus lockdown.
Today (Monday) sees some of the largest easing of restrictions this year, with up to 30 people now able to meet outdoors and two families or six people able to gather inside.
Indoor hospitality, hotels, theatres and cinemas are among those businesses preparing to reopen again, while secondary school children will no longer be required to wear a face mask in classrooms or communal areas.
And finally - after more than 14 months -, it is once again possible to hug your family and friends.
Kamal Bahia, the chair of the West Berkshire Health and Wellbeing Board engagement group, said it was an “amazing” moment.
“From Monday we can hug a loved one; how amazing,” she added. “It’s about keeping active, while still maintaining all the Covid criteria, but enjoying all the positive things we have got coming forward.
“Don’t forget your hands, face, space and fresh air and if you haven’t had your jab, please go and get it.”
The announcement that the country will move to step 3 in the Government’s planned roadmap out of recovery on May 17, came from Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week on Monday.
Mrs Bahia added: “Mental Health Awareness Week is about connecting with nature so we are trying to encourage people to meet their friends and loved ones outside.
“Try to increase your activity slowly too, especially if you haven’t been out. Take your time, do it at your own pace.
“This is the first year we’ve had to deal with something like this, so make sure you are considerate to others.”
The district council has also urged people to exercise caution as it plans for the relaxing of the Covid restrictions.
At a meeting of West Berkshire Council's Local Outbreak Engagement Board on Monday it was revealed that local groups and businesses had applied to stage 130 public events. Among these were sports fixtures, exhibitions and theatre productions.
Board members were given a presentation by the Public Protection Partnership's manager, Sean Murphy, who emphasised that the council's role was more in advising event organisers than formally regulating them.
While large gatherings had to be authorised, the council could only ban events with an excessive turnout, or events of a nature inappropriate to pandemic conditions.
Mr Murphy said: "At the heart of all of this is public confidence.
"The organisers want these things to go well, they want them to get off the ground.
"But the public need to be confident that they are properly arranged, and then the risk properly managed.
"We see ourselves as part of that whole process of providing that public confidence."
The council was also keen to encourage people to continue with regular testing as the district begins to open up again.
Communities and wellbeing service director Matthew Pearce added: "Obviously, regular testing is really important.
"I think, sometimes, when people think the prevalence is low, they don't need to get asymptomatic testing.
"But actually, we need to keep it low - so regularly testing children and adults that will play a really key part.
"When you're out and about, obviously wear a face covering.
"So all those things we've done over the last nine months, we need to keep doing those."
Among the events set to return is the Newbury Artisan Market.
Starting on May 30, traders will be taking to Northbrook Street and Bartholomew Street again between 10am and 4pm for the last Sunday of every month.
Newbury BID - the event's organisers - emphasised that a new Covid-friendly layout will protect visitors, and social distancing will be observed at all times.
Hundreds of businesses operate in the area surrounding the market, and it is hoped that the event will boost them during the transition to normality.
Newbury BID’s operations manager, Alison Drummond, said: "We have been working closely with West Berkshire Council’s Public Protection team, as the health and safety of such activities is paramount and we’re positive that now is the right time to start re-introducing these wonderful and much-loved markets.
"Whilst markets have been allowed to operate throughout lockdown, it’s been a work in progress getting our Artisan Market up and running again, but it’ll be well worth the wait."