As covid-19 cases begin to decline nationwide, the lockdown restrictions put in place by the government are gradually easing off. With this comes less pressure on the continuation of total isolation; parks full of people, which a month ago would have been decried as the next thing to manslaughter, are now, rightly, seen as a reasonable risk, so long as social distancing is upheld. Indeed, after months of being locked down, it would seem cruel not to allow people to cautiously emerge into the light, provided they don’t have regular contact with those in high-risk groups.
While many of the cafes on the Reigate high street remain shut, Pistachios in the Park, the circular café located in Priory Park’s Pavilion Building, is open once again. But that’s not to say serious risk-reduction measures aren’t being taken; music festival-esque metal queue barriers have been set up outside, only one person is permitted to enter at any one time, and the staff wear not face masks but face shields (which may be more effective according to the University of Iowa in America, and make them look more like Star Wars rebels than baristas). On top of this, it is, of course, only open for takeaway. The level of caution is impressive, putting to rest any fears one may have about reopening this early.
“We wouldn’t have reopen if we hadn’t felt safe,” confirms the manager, agreeing with me that it’s important to have a safe refuge from isolation, especially for those trapped alone or with families they don’t get on with. In between busily managing the café and its increasingly complex demands, she tells me how uncomfortable the shields are (“I have to keep cleaning mine every half an hour when it gets clouded up”), and expresses sympathy with NHS workers who have to wear similar PPE in harsher conditions. But as minor as it may seem, reopening a café in a social centre like a park provides much-needed benefits. It’s reassuring to people; it gives them a sense that the world is still going on as normal to a certain extent without going so far as to give them a false sense of security.
The park itself is bustling, but not worryingly so – everyone is socially distanced, and even those playing sport are taking care to avoid contact. The playground, however, has been closed. “I think it’s responsible that they closed (it) down,” said one woman, enjoying the sun on the sports field. “It’s kids touching everything and not really knowing any better” who pose the most significant risk in situations like these, after all. Indeed, while children are not at much risk from the virus themselves, as carriers they could be potentially catastrophic, and the playground remaining closed is a good sign that this has been taken on board.
In the end, though, in such a vast open space, few are in danger if they observe the proper restrictions; and if this is the case, why shouldn’t we begin to open businesses like Pistachios in the Park back up? Reassured by the evidence of precaution, I can see no reason why not.