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With new lockdown restrictions announced we look at Maidstone to see if people follow the measures already in place

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As the UK marks six months since lockdown was officially called, we now have another 'stay at home' instruction.

Last night the Prime Minister announced new restrictions urging people to work from home if they can while ordering pubs to close by 10pm from Thursday as part of a raft of new measures to help tackle a rapid rise in Covid-19 cases.

Signs have been introduced in Week Street
Signs have been introduced in Week Street

But with so many new rules to come in, how well do people actually follow the ones already in place?

With six months of practice under our belt we should be pros at navigating the 'new normal' by now.

To put this theory to the test we decided to observe the behaviour of the people of Maidstone - the town where this all began in Kent.

The first case of Covid-19 in the county was confirmed on March 2 when a worker from the Maidstone Studios on New Cut Road tested positive after returning from Italy.

Half a year on and Maidstone town centre is now equipped with social distancing markings, hand sanitiser dispensers and one way systems.

Social distancing signs to remind people at Maidstone East station
Social distancing signs to remind people at Maidstone East station

Setting a timer for 10 minutes at each, I picked five town centre locations and observed the good, the bad and the downright disgusting things people do in the middle of a pandemic.

Starting from Maidstone East train station, I made my way down Week Street, towards M&S, then over to The Mall Shopping Centre before stopping at Sainsbury's in Romney Place.

The first location was promising. Standing in a patch of shade on Platform two, I watched as passengers at Maidstone East station waited for the 12.59pm service to Ashford International.

My visit took place on a Monday afternoon so definitely not the peak time to wait for a train.

At its busiest, 10 people were standing on the platform making social distancing very easy to stick to and everyone kept to their own little bubbles.

Signs have been put in place around Maidstone town centre
Signs have been put in place around Maidstone town centre

The ever changing rules state unless you are exempt, wearing a face covering on public transport is compulsory.

As the train pulled up, nine out of 10 masks made an appearance, a gleaming example of how it should be done.

Just when I thought one person was letting the team down, she scrambled around in her bulging handbag while the train doors were beeping to open and pulled out a bright pink floral mask and popped it over her face and nose.

Ten out of 10, not bad at all.

Having witnessed the exceptional practice on the trains, I headed in to the high street with optimism thinking Maidstone was a leading example when it came to sticking to Covid-19 measures.

But I might have spoken too soon.

Just taking a walk through Week Street, where I once again set my timer for 10 minutes, I noticed several groups - who I'm sceptical were from the same household - mingling around shop windows.

Some 11 groups of more than six people of various ages were spotted making no attempts to socially distance and or wear masks.

Perhaps the people in those groups were fit, healthy, and not worried about the impact the virus had on them but it certainly gave the impression some people in Maidstone were not taking the virus seriously.

There was also a one way system in place with signs urging people to stick to the left but it was a bit of a free for all.

A one way system is in place in The Mall
A one way system is in place in The Mall

As this was a Monday lunch time, I could only imagine the situation escalating and social distancing impossible as the later hours drew in.

Next on the list was M&S also in Week Street. I counted the amount of people who entered the store in 10 minutes.

Out of 56, only 12 chose not to wear a mask.

That's 79% following the rules which is not bad going considering some of these people may have been exempt.

It seems Maidstone is very good at mask wearing but not so good at social distancing, or even sanitising their hands.

The Mall Shopping Centre King Street entrance
The Mall Shopping Centre King Street entrance

This brings me on to my next stop at the Mall Shopping Centre's entrance in King Street where I came across perhaps the most shocking discovery of my investigation.

During my 10 minute stake out, I noticed a gentleman pull his face covering dangling around his neck over his mouth. As he did this, he decided it was also a prime time to pick his nose.

On the inside I was begging for him to reach for the sanitiser dispenser just a few metres away but he walked straight past it, adjusting his mask without a care in the world.

Apart from the nose picking, the lack of sanitising was a trend that only continued. Out of the 90 people who entered the shopping centre, 18 without a mask, not a single person sanitised their hands on the way in.

To be fair with this one, the first sanitising station was hidden behind the protruding window of Pizza Hut but it was there longing to be used but not one person touched it.

Hand gel was fully stocked in Superdrug in The Mall
Hand gel was fully stocked in Superdrug in The Mall

I thought perhaps they were simply waiting until they entered the shop they came for.

Most of the shops had sanitiser dispensers in their doorways but not even these were a hit with customers despite the frequent tannoys reminding them they were there.

I found this little baffling considering when March's lockdown was called, several shops in the centre had their shelves stripped bare of the hand gel.

People were happy to bulk buy the disinfectant back in March but now people don't even bother to use it for free when they enter a shop.

Superdrug, Boots and Wilkinsons were this time all fully stocked with the hand wash suggesting people in the town are not panic buying this time round so at least that is one positive.

Sanitising stations have been introduced in Sainsbury's
Sanitising stations have been introduced in Sainsbury's

My final destination was Sainsbury's in Romney Place which also had an abundance of products previously in high demand such as loo rolls, bread and pasta.

After the nose picking fiasco my faith was fully restored by 57 out of 59 people in Sainsbury's opting to wipe down their trolleys and baskets with the spray as they entered the store.

As well as this, 96% were wearing a face covering.

From everything I documented it seems Maidstone is very good at covering their face and following the rules in supermarkets, but not so much else where.

The feeling was echoed by shoppers in the town centre who broadly expressed their support for another lockdown.

Guy Vincent has been working in Maidstone for more than a year
Guy Vincent has been working in Maidstone for more than a year

Guy Vincent, 43, from Hastings has been working in Maidstone for more than a year.

He said: "You can lay rules down but not everybody will adhere to them. There are certain people that are listening but the minority are not doing that and they are the people that need the finger pointing at.

"I don't want to go back into lockdown but the winter could be difficult unless we do something."

Sylvia Barnard, 74, and her husband Derek, 75, from Wrotham Heath travelled to Maidstone to do a spot of shopping for the first time since Christmas.

After just a few hours in the town, they said they were in no rush to come back.

Sylvia and Derek Barnard from Wrotham Heath travelled to Maidstone for the first time since Christmas
Sylvia and Derek Barnard from Wrotham Heath travelled to Maidstone for the first time since Christmas

Mr Barnard said: "I think it would be a very good idea to have another lockdown, the only difficulty is getting people to listen.

"We've seen so many groups around today and there has certainly been no social distancing."

Tracey Thakore who lives near Hermitage Park said she is also in favour of tougher rules.

She said: "I think it's a very good idea because I don't think testing is satisfactory and having people out after a certain time means they don't maintain the same cleanliness they would if they'd come out during the day.

"In Maidstone a lot of people in shopping centres haven't been wearing masks and they need to realise it's not one rule for them and another for everyone else.

"Fair enough if they're exempt but not all of them can be."

Mother and daughter Abbie Patey, 41, and Willow Patey, 16, visited from Snodland.

Abbie said: "A lockdown is probably needed unfortunately because we're just loosing more and more people.

"From what we've seen today most people are following the rules but there is still so many who are not."

Read more: All the latest news from Maidstone

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