Published: 06:00, 19 July 2021
| Updated: 15:23, 19 July 2021
Covid restrictions may be officially easing today, but don't expect to see plenty of changes - and brace yourself for plenty of confusion.
But as cases of the virus continue to grow across Kent and the UK as a whole, what had been billed as the great unlocking may see the door only opened an inch.
The boss of one major Kent pub chain says "the majority of its safety measures will remain in place" while different shops are set to demand different requirements over the wearing of face masks and social distancing.
If you're looking for a book at Tonbridge's independent Mr Books store, for example, you'll only get in through the door if you're wearing a mask and use hand sanitiser. But head into Waterstones in neighbouring Tunbridge Wells and you're only "encouraged" to wear one.
Bluewater says customers should still wear masks - although it is not mandatory - and is retaining many safety features. But it is scrapping its one-way system and returning the complex to full capacity.
All the county's major shopping centres say they will follow government guidance - but warn shoppers individual stores may have different policies to allow entry.
All the big supermarkets say they will encourage shoppers and staff to wear masks - but will leave it up to individuals - while hand-gel will still be made available. Tesco says it will continue to limit the numbers in its stores through its traffic light system.
For many, the opportunity to order from the bar at the pub once again at pubs will be welcomed - but you may have to be patient.
Not all venues will be switching from the table-ordering-only service which has proved so popular.
Explains Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Faversham-based pub chain Shepherd Neame: “While restrictions are being lifted, our priority remains to protect our team members and reassure customers they are safe in our pubs. Across our managed estate, we will therefore initially keep the majority of safety measures in place.
"While bar service will be re-introduced in some sites, table service will remain available in most, complemented by our new app.
"We will retain till screens and physical screens introduced between seating."
In addition, its pubs will "recommend" team members and customers wear masks but add "it will be left to the individual's choice".
Mr Neame added: "We acknowledge that some customers may still be apprehensive about going out and we will do our best to accommodate their individual needs.”
Wetherspoon, meanwhile, will be opening up bar service across its pubs - in addition to its table-service app which was operational pre-pandemic. But it says local managers will have the power to insist on face masks where appropriate.
All health settings - such as chemists, hospitals and GPs - will continue to insist on visitors wearing a mask and following social distancing rules.
The so-called 'pingdemic' that saw more than 500,000 people told to isolate last week alone continues to threaten reopening.
Yesterday Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak were forced into an embarrassing u-turn after trying to dodge rules having been in contact with new health secretary Sajid Javid. They had claimed to be part of a little-known pilot scheme.
But this morning there were signs some businesses would have to remain shut because of the spiralling number of people being told to stay at home.
Popular Whitstable Cafe Windy Corner Stores tweeted: "So just as supposed freedom day looms tomorrow, 2 members of our team have tested positive. We therefore will be closed for the first 10 days of the school hols."
Chief nursing officer for England, Ruth May, explained: “It is important for the public to continue to play their part when visiting the NHS and care settings to help protect our staff and patients, particularly those who may be more vulnerable to infections.
"As restrictions are lifted, everyone has a part to play in helping to control Covid by getting vaccinated and acting responsibly.
"It is vital that in healthcare settings, we do all we can to reduce the risk of infection for those working in our services and those who need our care.”
Tim Aker, development manager for the Kent and Medway Federation of Small Businesses, said: “As the country reopens today we welcome the opportunities but stress the need for patience, tolerance and empathy. Some businesses will still operate restrictions, as is their right, and we must be understanding.
“The government must be clearer in its guidance. Too many businesses are confused, and the lack of focus is a concern."
Meanwhile, work from home guidance has also been eased - although most firms are likely to phase staff in over the summer months.
Jo James, chief executive of the Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, said: "As the Prime Minister has said, the pandemic has not disappeared and businesses will need to continue to play their part in keeping their employees and customers safe.
"That means that although there may be changes, many businesses will be keeping in place some of the measures that have become familiar over the last 12 months, including face coverings in certain circumstances.
“Although the government has removed some specific legal restrictions – such as mandatory face coverings in indoor settings – as the guidance makes clear, businesses still have an overall responsibility to minimise risk to their employees and customers.
“Therefore, many are asking questions about whether they will be held liable should they make changes to the way they operate from July 19."
'That means that although there may be changes, many businesses will be keeping in place some of the measures that have become familiar over the last 12 months...'
Meanwhile, train passengers on Southeastern services will be allowed to take masks off in sparsely populated carriages - but are urged to wear them on busy services. Commuters are also reminded Transport for London will still require masks to be worn across its network or Tube and bus services.
Analysis from political editor Paul Francis
If there is one thing politicians have - or should have - learned from the Covid pandemic, is to expect the unexpected.
Events over the weekend have shown the government might need a catch-up class or two on the subject.
On the brink of what has been heavily trailed as “Freedom Day” when the shackles of the debilitating regime of social distancing, mask-wearing and travel restrictions are removed, what happens?
The health secretary Sajid Javid reveals he has tested positive for the virus. Which inevitably leads to the question: Will he and the Prime Minister and Chancellor have to self-isolate?
To which the answer initially is no because they are all part of a pilot test - which only a few people know about - in which those working in key essential jobs - like running the country - are not required to self isolate.
This in turn leads to the predictable charge that yet again, politicians are telling the public what to do while blithely ignoring the rules themselves.
Special pleading by governments rarely goes down well with voters and within a couple of hours, a U-turn was announced.
The episode underlines that the political stakes are undeniably high. In opting for a wholesale lifting of restrictions rather than a phased approach, the government risks precipitating a surge of infections of anything between 100,000 and 200,000 a day.
The danger is that this will place the NHS under pressure should the claim that the vaccination programme has weakened the link between infections and hospital admissions prove premature.
Having reached the final destination on its 'road map', the government may yet be forced to put on the brakes and engage reverse gear.