Will shoppers have the confidence to visit Ipswich this year?

Ipswich's Christmas tree

Ipswich's Christmas tree has been put up in the Cornhill - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Tonight the shops in Ipswich town centre are staying open late for the first Christmas trading session and the lights should have been switched on - but how "normal" is this festive season likely to be with the spectre of high numbers of Covid cases still very present?

Things do feel much more relaxed than they did this time last year - by early November we were already in the second "fire-break" lockdown which was attempting to bring down infections.

We're a long way off that now but there do seem to be some serious mixed messages coming through which, I'm sure, must be confusing many people who really want to know exactly what they should and should not be doing.

Normally the start of the late-night shopping season is marked by the formal switch-on of the town's Christmas lights. That's not happening in Ipswich this year, although there is street entertainment which should be a major attraction for visitors.

What puzzled me was why the switch-on was cancelled yet there were thousands of people in Christchurch Park for the Remembrance Day event on Sunday.

I raised this with Ipswich portfolio holder for the town centre Sarah Barber who told me that the concern about a big switch-on event was centred on the fact that the Cornhill is a fairly enclosed area and a crowd of thousands there would be very close to each other.

2017 Christmas lights

In earlier years - this was 2017 - the lights switch on has led to big crowds in the Cornhill. - Credit: Archant

She added that while there were thousands at Christchurch Park, there was plenty of space for people to observe social distancing if they wanted to - there was no crush.

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I see that logic, but I also understand the frustration of retailers who regard a big switch-on as a big boost to tell everyone that the Christmas shopping season has arrived - a season that is absolutely crucial to their annual profit prospects.

I hope smaller events like the Saints Christmas market on November 28 and the Christmas Farmers' Market on the Cornhill the following Sunday will give traders a boot and I think these are what people are looking for as we still get daily reports of tens of thousands of cases of Covid across the country.

But there are still confused messages from politicians and the scientific community.

We're told by the prime minister that the storm clouds of Covid are gathering in Europe yet he managed to get himself photographed and filmed in a hospital while not wearing a mask in an apparent breach of the NHS rules there.

The government is trying to persuade us that we should be safe enough going to the theatre, cinema or out for a meal - but acknowledge there is still a chance that some lockdown measures could have to be reintroduced.

I do wonder if we might move to a situation faced by people in Austria where those who have not been fully vaccinated face tighter restrictions following on from care workers and frontline NHS staff who have been told that getting vaccinated is now a job requirement.

I have to say on this I feel the government is absolutely right - unless someone has been told individually by their doctor that it is not safe for them to have a jab I can't see any excuse for not being vaccinated.

Vaccines have been proved to be safe for pregnant women and they do not affect fertility. Frankly anyone who believes the anti-vaxxer lies about these effective treatments has no business to be in a caring profession anyway!

I do understand the concern of care homes who face the prospect of losing a small proportion of their staff because of these rules - but as I say I'm not sure that anyone so obstinate to fail to see the logic of having a safe vaccine is really suited to that role anyway.

For most of us, how we live our lives should be a matter of common sense - but the issue is what is common sense for one person is reckless abandon for another, especially when you consider Covid is a PUBLIC health crisis. It's a crisis that relies on us all acting together to get on top of it.

Personally, I feel safe now doing most of what I did pre-pandemic. But I do get worried when I see others not taking heed of public health advice like wearing masks in enclosed spaces or registering with a Covid app.

This Christmas should be better than last - but no one can think the crisis is over yet!

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