Anxiety in Barnsley as a viral hotspot set to open | Barnsley

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Stores reopen in Barnsley on Monday and Richard Walker is worried. A retired mason with a history of heart attacks, Walker left his home on Saturday for the first time in three months to get some fresh air, but didn’t like what he saw.

“People are ignoring the government’s suggestions, the supermarkets are absolutely overcrowded. People don’t wear masks and don’t keep their distance, ”he said. In January, her sister-in-law Beverley Walker died of Covid at the age of 57. “It was a big shock, totally unexpected. We just got a phone call. We still don’t know how she got it. It really touched the family.

This experience is one of the reasons Walker gets frustrated when people bend the rules. “I’m so mad at them,” he says. “But you can’t say anything because they’re going to argue. They know they are blatantly breaking the rules.

These people are, however, a small minority. Almost everyone in the freezing cold of downtown Barnsley appeared to be wearing masks and adhering to social distancing rules.

Karen Grant standing in the pedestrianized shopping area with her hands in the pockets of her blue winter coat
Shopper Karen Grant: “We need more vaccination centers here. “ Photographie: Richard Saker / The Observer

Covid rates in Barnsley are the third highest in the country, with a seven-day moving average of 100.9 cases per 100,000 population. Still, Barnsley’s lockdown will be lifted on Monday, despite a rate more than three times the England national average.

Local politicians no longer want their citizens to stay locked up, but they worry about the consequences. Sir Steve Houghton, head of Barnsley’s council, said there were already signs that Covid had become a ‘disease of the poor’.

“The reasons the rates are high at Barnsley are threefold,” he said. “We have low levels of work from home so most people go to work and we are seeing outbreaks in the workplace. Second, we did a lot of testing. The third problem is deprivation and family bubbles – families depend on each other for childcare and other forms of support.

“We would like to unlock, we don’t want to be left behind. But we have asked that once we have vaccinated the over 50s and clinically vulnerable people, we want to accelerate the rollout of the vaccine in places like Barnsley. These factors… are not going to go away.

Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis of Labor said more financial assistance was needed so those in need could isolate themselves. “As the restrictions are lifted, the government should do the right thing and increase the support available for those who need to self-isolate,” he said. “No one should be faced with the unpleasant choice between doing the right thing for their community and feeding their family.”

In Barnsley town center, store workers were getting ready for the big day. “We have a lot to do, but it’s going well,” said Carol Lucas-Armstong, manager of the local Clinton card store. “We are very excited, we miss the customers. We are not worried, all the staff are really looking forward to it. “

Inside the market, Angus Mckinlay runs Joseph Cliff Fishmonger, which has been open throughout the lockdown. He said people have generally been very careful. “There are no more idiots here than anywhere else,” he said.

“But there are a lot of factories and people who work in close contact with each other. Thousands of people work in some warehouses. It is necessarily higher here.

Angus Mckinlay resting both hands on his fishmonger's counter in a blue striped apron, looking at the camera
Angus Mckinlay: “There are lots of factories and people who work in close contact with each other. “ Photographie: Richard Saker / The Observer

Fashion giant Asos and Premier Foods, which makes the Mr Kipling brand, are two of the city’s biggest employers. “We have so many people who cannot be put on leave,” said Christian Mason. “They always provide people. Without them we could not continue.

Deprivation is also likely to be a factor in the stubborn Covid rate in Barnsley, which in 2019 ranked 22nd out of 317 local authorities in England for health deprivation.

Although Covid rates have fallen since the start of the year, deaths are still higher than in August, September and October last year, and rates among the elderly are among the highest in England.

Buyer Karen Grant believes it’s because most people have to travel outside of Barnsley to get the shot. She received her first dose from the nearest mass vaccination center, nearly 15 miles north in Wakefield.

She said: “We need more vaccination centers here. There are a lot of people at home who don’t have enough money to travel, especially in the most disadvantaged areas. “

She is also worried that younger generations are choosing not to be vaccinated, people like Emily Williams, 20, and her brother Todd Morrison, 18, both of whom are indifferent to the idea of ​​getting the vaccine. , describing himself as “low risk”.

But Williams, who spent the last year without a job, believes the reopening of stores will trigger a third wave in the city.

She said: “It will get worse and it will continue to drag on and on. I can’t really talk about government, but I wish I had been educated enough to talk about it because I’m really angry.

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