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The hairdressers, barber shops, cafes and pubs in the Pembrokeshire town of Narberth were doing brisk business as people enjoyed their final few hours of freedom before a national “firebreak” lockdown that will bring Wales grinding to a halt for the next fortnight.
“The last couple of nights have been as busy as a normal weekend,” said Louise Morgan, owner of The Angel, a beautifully refurbished 18th-century coaching inn on the High Street.
The Angel was fully booked for lunch on Friday and offering those who felt a final flurry was the way to go a “Fizz Friday lockdown special” between 3pm and 6pm – the time when the firebreak comes into force and the Angel’s doors will close.
Morgan was trying to keep smiling. “This new lockdown is pretty disastrous for us,” she said. “I’m not sure what shutting everything down for two weeks is going to achieve. It might slow things down a bit but what’s going to happen in a month’s time? Will they be closing us down again?”
The Labour-led Welsh government insists that a national effort is needed to slow the spread coronavirus, to ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed and to give it breathing space to prepare for the long, hard winter ahead.
Not all are convinced. “It’s rubbish,” said Kathryn James, who runs Lillies cafe in Narberth. She doesn’t personally know anyone who has had Covid. “It doesn’t feel like the right thing. We haven’t had it had it bad here. They shouldn’t be stopping everything.” She hopes her business will survive – but cannot say for certain it will.
Until now, the coronavirus infection rate in this corner of south-west Wales has been very low compared with many cities in Wales and in the rest of the UK.
However, Pembrokeshire county council warned this week that cases were starting to rise, and between 12 and 18 October went above 50 cases per 100,000 people – the rate at which local lockdown measures may have been brought in anyway.
David Simpson, the leader of the council, said: “We cannot be complacent. Cases are rising in Pembrokeshire and this firebreak is our opportunity to get these numbers back under control.”
Many are prepared to put up with the measures but are concerned with what comes next. The government says some sort of national “regime” will follow but has not yet said what that will look like.
The Welsh Tory leader, Paul Davies, people needed to know now: “I think people are frustrated. They want to know what is coming next. The government should be saying now what their plans are for the next couple of months. It’s not just about the economy. It’s the impact on mental health and wellbeing. You have to give people hope.”
It’s not just about business, of course. Families will be separated, elderly people will be isolated. “I’ll miss my grandchildren again,” said Ed Jones, who was walking his dog down Narberth High Street enjoying a last few hours of bustle. “It was terrible being split up from them in the spring. It’s going to be a long two weeks.”
Paul Phillips, who runs Narberth taxis and was grabbing a haircut, said: “We’re in trouble already. The last three weeks have been dire. Since the summer we haven’t been making enough to pay the wages and bills.”
He added that he had already reduced the size of his taxi fleet and feared things would worsen if this was the first of a series of lockdowns. “People are pretty miserable about it all,” he said.
Maz Kamal, a barber, said he could survive a two-week shutdown but not a string of them. “How will I pay the rent and the bills?” he said. He would try to apply for funding. “But that will stop eventually. What comes next?”
Sam Cowlam, who runs Fforc Welsh Deli, said his shop probably would be allowed to stay open as they sell food but planned to remain closed on Saturday anyway. “There won’t be enough footfall in the town to justify it.”
Like many, Cowlam accepted the Welsh government had a very difficult job. “It is a pain for us to be hit by the same restrictions as everybody when the rate in Pembrokeshire is still pretty low. The Welsh government had gone for a different approach to England. Who’s to knows who is right and wrong? Time will tell.”
Source: The Guardian
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