Covid: How has Omicron changed a Christmas night out in Ipswich?

By Laurence Cawley, Zoie O'Brien & John Fairhall
BBC News

  • Published
Carl Watts and Sophie Bareham
Image caption,
Carl Watts (left) says he feels anxious about enjoying a night out while friend Sophie Bareham says people should be careful but get on with their lives too

The week before Christmas is usually one of the busiest times of year for pubs and clubs. But the advent of the Omicron variant has led to party cancellations and many staying at home. What do those venturing out for a few drinks make of it all?

Two weeks ago, 29-year-old Sophie Bareham was at home in London having finished a 10-day stint of self-isolation after having Covid.

On Thursday night, she was out in Ipswich to help celebrate her best friend's birthday.

"I'm double-jabbed and had a booster so because it's her birthday I thought we could celebrate," she says.

"Loads of people are worried, everybody is worried."

She says whether or not people went for a night out was a "personal preference" and people should not be judged for the decisions they make.

"If you want to go out and live your life then that's your choice. Other people might want to stay at home," she says.

"We all have to be careful but life still goes on."

Her friend Carl Watts, however, feels more anxious about the Omicron threat and, while he has come out to celebrate in Ipswich, he has cancelled his other plans.

"This is the first time we've been out for three years," he says. "We were due to go to London on Saturday but we're trying to cancel that now.

"It is not that we don't want to go, it is the anxiety of the 'do you or don't you?'.

"I don't want to ruin Christmas for my children or anybody else."

'This is very quiet for us'

Image caption,
Richard Rafiel says bookings are down 30% on what he would usually expect at this time of year

Isaacs on the Quay, on Ipswich Waterfront, had many cancellations on Thursday night.

"This is very quiet for us," says Richard Rafiel, who manages the venue.

"Everybody is unsure. Nobody knows about the new rules and what's going to happen, what the issues are and everybody is very cautious.

"Everybody has always been very compliant with us - our customers are lovely.

"And, in terms of functions, I think we are on about a 30% loss on what we would usually have had.

"With all the new measures again and again and again, people have given up.

"There isn't a direct message so nobody knows what is going on, so they are staying away.

"When is enough, enough?"

Mr Rafiel fears for all of those who work in the hospitality sector.

"Most people that work in hospitality are on a week by week wage check so if the customers aren't there, we don't get paid - that's homelessness, you can't pay your rent, you can't pay your council tax, you can't pay your bills."

'If you keep your wits about you, you should be all right'

Image caption,
Because of her job, Molly Richards cannot usually go out on a weekend night so decided to go out on a week night with friends

One of those out in Ipswich works in the hospitality sector.

Because of her job, Molly Richards cannot usually go out on a weekend night so decided to go out on a week night with friends.

"It has been a really tough year and we've lost a lot of business and that sort of thing," she says.

"And with Omicron, everybody is pulling out of their Christmas parties so it is quite nice to have people coming through and still supporting us."

She says she is worried about going out for a few drinks but adds: "We are really aware of the Covid restrictions and all that kind of thing, we are not really socialising with other people.

"I think as long as you've got your wits about you, you should be all right."

'I'm just not scared of it at all to be honest'

Image caption,
George Tiller says whether or not people feel comfortable enjoying a night out is a personal choice

George Tiller, 23, says he decided to have a night out to have a laugh and enjoy the company of a friend.

Asked whether he had any concerns about contracting Covid, Mr Tiller said: "Definitely not. I'm just not scared of it at all to be honest."

He had Covid about eight months ago.

"I see it as a cold and that's pretty much it. My body is enough to fight it."

He says whether or not people felt comfortable enjoying a night out is a personal choice.

"If they're not comfortable then that's down to them. Fair enough. But if you feel comfortable going out then they're adults, why not?"

'I've just got to stick it out and keep my hopes up'

Mackenzie Gouder-Old, 19, is a barman at Isaacs.

Looking around and seeing far fewer people out enjoying themselves in the lead-up to Christmas, he says, is "a bit sad".

"It is not as busy as it has been here but it is enough to keep in work," he says.

"Some people are worried but others will come out and say it is their first time out in a year.

"I don't really want to get Covid before Christmas because then I wouldn't be able to see my family.

"But I've just got to stick it out and keep my hopes up. I know quite a few people who work in hospitality who are also quite worried.

"We're always cleaning the tables and then we have the deep cleaners come in during the morning.

"We always try to take peoples' glasses as soon as we can and put them thoroughly through the wash. We try a lot and you can see the effort when you come to places like this."

'I think it is important for us to spend our money in local pubs'

Image caption,
Jordan Wilden, 23, says it was "an easy decision" to make about going for a night out

Jordan Wilden, 23, says it was "an easy decision" to make about going for a night out.

"Me and my mate don't mind coming out to have a few drinks and a bit of fun - it doesn't really bother us."

He says he does not fear Covid because "we are young enough and our immune system is strong enough for it not to have a massive effect".

He says he had expected the town to be busier in the week before Christmas.

"To be fair it is a bit quiet out, it is a little bit of a shock," he says.

For those comfortable with going out, he says it is important for them to support the night-time economy.

"We've seen a lot of businesses going under from being in lockdown and not being able to get the funds to work so I think it is important for us to spend our money in local pubs," he says.

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