Jennifer Gonzales fears that Boris Johnson’s decision to lift all remaining Covid restrictions will end in “disaster”. The 56-old-year home educator says: “Covid is still here so we should carry on self-isolating if we get it. It is too soon to be changing that now.”
Her view is typical of much of the nervousness in Horsham on Monday afternoon as the prime minister set out plans to lift restrictions. The West Sussex market town has the highest rate of Covid in England at 930 cases per 100,000 people.
Speaking in Horsham’s Swan Walk shopping mall, Gonzales says she is also worried about the end of free testing. “Even with free testing, a lot of people haven’t been using it and if you have to pay for it even fewer will. We will be mingling with people with no restrictions who may not know they’ve got it. I think that will be a disaster.”
Lindsey, a 37-year-old care worker who did not want to give her surname, agrees.
Sheltering at a bus stop from the tail end of Storm Franklin, she says: “I know they say that we should live with it. But we can still help prevent it, so self-isolation and free testing should continue.”
She adds: “I know from my experience of working with vulnerable people that if you’ve got Covid you shouldn’t go into work.”
She is also suspicious of Johnson’s motives for lifting restrictions now. She says: “Everything that happened with the wine and cheese parties and barbecues was ridiculous. When the government tell us one thing you should follow that. So I think he could be trying to get the public back on his side again.”
Hetty Constable, 27, a hairdresser, also thinks Johnson’s plan is politically motivated. “He’s trying to get votes, but he’s a muppet and no one trusts him.”
She adds: “I think you should still be made to stay at home if you have Covid. If I had it I wouldn’t come in to work. We’ve got to keep people safe.”
Even some of those who back Johnson in this safe Conservative seat are uneasy about the plan. “It’s being done too quick,” says Darren Avey, a 56-year-old Tory voter who works at Horsham’s Horace Fuller lawn mower shop.
He adds: “I’ve got a bad lung problem. My doctor said if you catch it you’d be gone because your lungs are so rotten and you won’t be able to fight it.”
He reckons the move is financially motivated. “They’re doing it now because they can’t afford to keep the testing going. But they’ve got to keep people safe. Too many people are vulnerable.”
But many in Horsham will be pleased to see the back of the restrictions, including David Tiller, 78, who spent five nights in hospital with Covid in September 2020.
He says: “To me it was like flu. I ended up in hospital because I went down with pneumonia. Everybody seems to be panicking about it. It used to be that if you wore a mask when you went into a bank you’d be arrested; now you’ll be arrested if you don’t wear a mask.”
David’s wife, Carol, 61, who works in Horsham Waitrose, says: “We can’t carry on with these restrictions, and people aren’t taking much notice of them anyway. I think it’s time people take their own responsibility and look after themselves, and not be told what to do.”
Lyn Bishop, 73, a retired secretary, agrees. “The sooner we get back to normal, the better. I think it’s time really. I’m not nervous about it because I take my own precautions.”
A 64-year-old retired officer worker who gave her name only as Stef, says she takes her inspiration from the monarch, saying: “The Queen has got it and she’s not panicking.”
She adds: “The whole thing is different now: it is not 2020, we’ve got the vaccines, we’ve got the treatments. We shouldn’t say ‘herd immunity’ but we have built up resistance in the community.”
“I’ve known umpteen people who have had it and only two who have been hospitalised and they are fine now. I’m sitting here with no mask and I don’t feel vulnerable.”