'FREEDOM Day' has arrived in Basingstoke, as the government embarks on its final step of lockdown restriction easing today (Monday, July 19).

In the town centre, shoppers had mixed views on the lifting of measures, with most apprehensive about some element of a return to normality, although some relieved to see the back of compulsory face mask wearing.

Step 4 on the government's route map out of lockdown sees an almost complete end to social distancing, with caps on gathering numbers lifted, social distancing of one metre no longer required, and mask wearing no longer enforceable by law.

However, many places in Basingstoke have chosen to continue asking customers to adhere to restrictions, including Festival Place, independent coffee shop Willows, and some supermarkets.

Out in the 32 degree heat in the town centre, the Gazette asked residents and visitors alike about their thoughts on 'Freedom Day'.

Emma Gover, 44, who is from Winchester but works in Basingstoke, said she has both her jabs but will still wear a mask inside.

“Quite a few people are wearing them, there’s definitely more masks than not,” she said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry, the numbers are still too high.”

She said she may be more inclined to take her children to events, outdoors, during the summer, but otherwise admits "nothing has really changed for me".

Mark Smith, 45, from Basingstoke added: “People are being sensible here, it’s just a bit too soon not to wear masks.”

Basingstoke Gazette: Festival Place is still asking people to wear masks and stick to Covid rules.Festival Place is still asking people to wear masks and stick to Covid rules.

However, Britta Wallwork, 35, from Reading was enjoying a refreshing frozen yoghurt with her toddler son, and says she is supportive of an end to face masks.

“I am happy about it because I don’t have to wear a mask any more. They are uncomfortable especially when it’s so hot!” she said.

Britta added that she thinks it’s “probably too soon” for a return of large events, adding: “We will probably have to have another lockdown because of it, but not wearing masks is ok as long as people distance."

Linda Hicks, 64, from Popley had stopped for some lunch in Festival Place with daughter Gemma Kershaw, 38, from Oakley.

Linda said: “I have come in for an appointment but I wouldn’t come in here unless I really needed to. I still avoid crowded places and wear a mask.”

Commenting on large-scale gatherings, sge he continued: “To lift everything when we know the rates are high seems an odd decision. We’ve all got to trust and start thinking about it, but having both jabs doesn’t mean you don’t get it.

"I was horrified when I saw scenes of night clubs last night. They are putting themselves at risk. The youngsters see it as freedom day, and they have been locked down so I understand, but I think it's the wrong decision to make at this point.

"Maybe it's a generational thing.”

Gemma added: “I do think there would have been a bit of uproar if Boris had changed his mind again, so I do get why he's stuck to it”

Basingstoke Gazette: Linda Hicks thinks full easing of restrictions is the 'wrong decision'. Pictured with daughter Gemma Kershaw.Linda Hicks thinks full easing of restrictions is the 'wrong decision'. Pictured with daughter Gemma Kershaw.

Meanwhile, Maureen Moggridge, 71, from Newbury said she is a "big advocate" of masks while husband Terry, 76, is happy to no longer wear one.

Maureen said: “Its so prevalent at the moment. There's still so much of it about and I’m not sure about everyone being close together without masks.

"The vast majority are wearing them and I would like to see them stay for at least a few more weeks."

However, the couple agreed that the economic impact of restrictions has to be considered. Maureen added: “At the same time, it’s got to happen at some stage and better in summer than winter. We can’t live in lockdown forever. Things do have to open up and I can understand it from businesses point of view."

Both retired, they say they have "only been inconvenienced" compared to people who have struggle financially or even lost their jobs.

"We are very lucky,” said Maureen.

Basingstoke Gazette: Maureen and Terry Moggridge from Newbury have different opinions about masks.Maureen and Terry Moggridge from Newbury have different opinions about masks.

Maureen and Terry said they used to use the Park&Ride and Centre Shuttle Service, which was recently scrapped by the council, so they now take the bus.

They said the journey felt very safe, with Terry the only one not wearing a mask. “If the government said it’s personal choice, I’ll do what I want to do,” he said.

Asked about fears of a further lockdown in the coming, Britta Wallwork wasn't the only one who thought it might happen. Linda Hicks said: "I think it's possible, because this time last year we came out and we started mixing a bit more and by October we were back in lockdown."

However, Maureen Moggridge said she hoped it will be avoidable, "if we don't do silly things like 'Eat Out To Help Out!"