RESIDENTS have been advised to act responsibly and “stay safe” as Southampton reopens.

As of today, the country has reached step four of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown meaning that rules like face mask wearing and social distancing are no longer mandatory.

After 16 months of restrictions, Southampton and Hampshire is opening up again with clubs and events able to start back up.

But residents have been advised to stay safe as infections continue to rise across the country.

Dr Debbie Chase, Director of Public Health at Southampton City Council, said: “Today marks a significant milestone for Southampton in almost 16 months with the lifting of COVID-19 legal restriction.

“But as a city, we still have a lot of work to do if we are to make this transition smoothly because COVID-19 will be a feature of our lives for the foreseeable future.

“Whilst there will no longer be a need to legally enforce rules like face coverings and social distancing, we all need to use our judgement and common sense to protect ourselves.”

Although no longer set out in law, residents are advised to continue wearing face coverings in crowded spaces or on public transport and try to keep a safe distance from others.

The Leader of Southampton City Council, Cllr Daniel Fitzhenry, said though that it is “good news that the successful rollout of the vaccination process has allowed us to get to this stage”.

He added: “Now we can begin to live with Covid but exercise personal responsibility and decision making so that we can adapt some form or normality in our lives whilst also being mindful of the risks.

“It’s also important that we do everything we can as a city to get our economy back active and to protect the 7800 people that were on furlough at the end of May and protect the jobs that they’re coming back to.”

The council leader added that through free parking charges on Sundays and evening in the city, as well as investment in deep cleaning, the authority is working to “get Southampton moving”.

Deputy leader of Southampton City Council and cabinet member for growth, Councillor Jeremy Moulton, added: “The transition period over the next few months is really key and we don’t take anything for granted.

“As a council we’re doing everything we can to support jobs and businesses particularly over that period where we do get back to normal ways of living.”

As of today, city businesses have been able to extend their capacity and the Executive Director of the area business improvement district, Go!Southampton, Giles Semper said: “We are excited to see the city open up even more, especially in the evenings now that music venues, clubs and bars can reopen at full capacity.

“There is so much to see and do in the city. We encourage everyone visiting the city to check the policies of individual businesses. We look forward to taking what we hope will be the last step out of lockdown and into recovery.”

The operator of music venue The Joiners on St Mary’s Street have also spoken of their relief ahead of their first standing gig since the pandemic drew the music industry to a halt.

Ricky Bates described the pandemic as “the darkest period in this music venues 53 year history” and added that he was “relieved” after the government confirmed that all venues can open.

He said: “We just want to make sure everyone feels safe at the venue.”

Ricky was forced to cancel and move the dates of over 100 gigs since the start of the pandemic.

Elsewhere, in Eastleigh, Market Street and High Street have finally reopened after over a year of closure for social distancing.

Since the traffic order was implemented in June 2020, there have been calls for the roads to reopen with one group creating a petition against the closures.

A Council spokesperson said: “Pedestrians and drivers are reminded to be extra vigilant and take extra care as we all get used to the roads being reopened after over a year of being closed.

“The Council remains committed to working with local businesses, residents and other organisations to improve Eastleigh town centre.”

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