Cambridge, lock downs and face coverings

I went into Cambridge this morning. Generally speaking it’s not a big deal. In normal pre-Covid times I’m often at Shire Hall and I have a habit of going in every Saturday mornings to meet friends for breakfast. But today was only my fourth visit since the start of lock down (16 Mar 20). Two of those visits were for very specific purposes early on and the third was a first Saturday morning visit last month when restaurants were allowed to open and once more I could enjoy a Saturday morning breakfast.

Other than these Cambridge excursions I’ve been several times to St Ives to visit the company which I support there, I’ve been once to Ely for lunch and I’ve enjoyed two other restaurant trips closer to home. Such has life changed.

I guess we all locked down pretty severely back then and some have felt it necessary to take full advantages since then as lock down has eased but I haven’t.

I’m certainly frustrated, I’ve missed one holiday and normally I’d be getting excited by a second one in the autumn. I normally do get out a lot, I like casual coffee meet-ups with friends and colleagues and I am conscious of the constraints of social distancing, wearing a face covering and frequent hand washing. But I’m not inclined to do more than I am at present and that’s largely down to where I live.

The community of Histon & Impington (H&I) is in South Cambridgeshire, close to but not a part of Cambridge. It’s infection rate is about half of the national average, in many recent weeks there have been no new cases, and there have been few deaths. People here do socially distance and the use of face coverings and the precautions taken by local businesses have been exemplary. So there’s a feeling which I suspect many have, I certainly do, of ‘we’re doing just fine, let’s not do anything to endanger that’.

There’s another element. H&I has an much envied commercial offering with three convenience stores, many other shops, six pubs and restaurants and a few cafes. They have all reopened just as soon as they have been able. Their owners and managers have been careful to follow Covid rules and by and large the community has respected these and enjoyed the freedom of having such facilities on its doorstep. Why should I leave our local protective bubble when there’s so much already on my doorstep?

Cambridge this morning was different. It’s also had a ‘good’ pandemic so far. Of course there are no under graduates so there’s less demand for shops and restaurants but generally speaking they are all reopening. Although there’s a high level of compliance with face covering rules there’s more ‘confidence’ in how you walk about. In H&I most people deliberately avoid getting closer than 2m from others, some even turn away as they pass you. In Cambridge it’s not so marked but, because there are fewer people than normal, it’s not threatening.

We had breakfast in Bill’s, good food and excellent service, and it was diligent at checking your temperatures when you went in and collecting your contact information. There was hand cleanser on every table and staff notably cleaned all surfaces after use. However there was a bustle inside, face coverings were not used and separation was much more one metre than two. Similar businesses in H&I are much more careful.

We have obviously returned home safely and will not know if we’ve been unfortunate in picking up an infection. It’s all down to statistics anyway and given a low background level of infection in Cambridge and the extensive use of control measures the risks are pretty low.

The contrast with what happens elsewhere is stark. Why would I volunteer to get on a plane, which seems a perfect incubation environment, and get close to others who’ve come from places with high infection rates? Why would I join thousands of others on the beach? OK it’s out of doors but again you’ve got enforced proximity with so many others. And why would I frequent an establishment with remote management and contracted staff who pay lip-service to the need for Covid compliance?

However it will change but slowly and I’m reckoning that maybe next spring we may see something closer to normality. Maybe a train to somewhere in France for a Spring break?

In the shorter term we’re off to East Yorkshire to see our grandchildren in a couple of weeks for the first time since way back when. There’s a low level of infection there too and we’re staying in a family run pub with just two bedrooms. It’s not cheap but I’m willing to pay so that I can have confidence that it’s looking after its guests in full Covid compliant fashion.

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