CAUTIOUSLY optimistic business leaders have welcomed the news coronavirus restrictions will be eased in England to allow non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants, gyms and hairdressers to reopen.

The Government has announced the country will return to a three tier system from next Thursday, meaning areas with worse infections rates will be under tougher restrictions.

But in all areas non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen in the run-up to Christmas, whilst pubs, restaurants, gyms and hairdressers will be able to open again and outside grassroots sport can restart.

Details of which tier each area will go into are due to be released this Thursday.

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Essex County Council, which placed the county into tier two just before the national lockdown, hopes to enter tier one although the validity of the lowest tier has been challenged by scientists.

Sam Good, manager of Our Colchester Business Improvement District, said the relaxation of restrictions was good news for retailers.

“Hopefully Essex will be placed in tier one but we don’t know at the moment,” he said.

“As long as our businesses can operate it is good news and there is some movement on the curfew for hospitality firms which is great news as well.

“We don’t want to push a short term gain for a long term pain in terms of another lockdown further down the line, but hopefully the lifting of restrictions can allow us to operate safely over Christmas.

“The Christmas period is so vital for our businesses. It also means we can go ahead with our plans for Christmas in the town centre.”

Bill Nettelfield, owner of Bill and Bert’s gift shop, in Sir Isaac’s Walk, described the news as a “huge relief”.

“Independents in Colchester have had to suffer and watch stores which have barely a smattering of essential products open their doors selling everything they have got,” he said, “It would be wonderful if people could now wait until Thursday next week to do any more shopping and come out and support the stores which have been closed, whether it is independents such as ourselves or Baccus, or retailers like River Island.

“Christmas won’t make up for the losses we have made but we will do everything we can to make it successful.”

But Sheena Valentine, who runs the Victoria Inn, in North Station Road, Colchester, said there was too much uncertainty still to get excited.

She said: “Our pub, like many others in Colchester, doesn’t serve food. In tier one we are able to open again but there were other restrictive conditions which meant we were barely breaking even.

“But if we are in tier two we won’t be allowed to open as you have to serve a substantial meal with alcohol. Of course, we would prefer to be open but we will still need extra support because the rules are so restrictive.

“Relaxing the curfew won’t make much difference to our business but it will mean we don’t have to run around screaming to get people out at 10pm. It is a small step in the right direction.”