How are businesses feeling about the threat of Omicron?

Siobhan Peyton in front of The Sculthorpe Mill, on the River Wensum.

Siobhan Peyton in front of the Sculthorpe Mill, on the River Wensum - Credit: AW PR

The emergence of the Omicron variant, and the uncertainty about its spread and seriousness, has triggered a tense time for many businesses.

Just as they were making preparations for the busy Christmas period, they are once again facing an anxious period.

Last week, mandatory face coverings were reintroduced on public transport and in shops - though not in hospitality venues.

But even more significant could be the impact the news of the variant will have on consumer and trader confidence.

Shoppers out in force wearing masks in Norwich city centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Face masks have been made mandatory in shops and on public transport again - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

We spoke to businesses in the Dereham and Fakenham areas to get their take on recent developments - and what might come next. 

'Playing it by ear' 

Siobhan Peyton, co-owner of Sculthorpe Mill, near Fakenham, admitted it was difficult to tell what impact there had been on new and existing bookings. 

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Ms Peyton, who runs the hotel alongside her sister, Caitriona, said the pair were simply taking things one day at a time. 

"Looking at new bookings, it is hard to tell what impact there has been," she added.

"Whether we would have had more bookings without news of the variant, we simply don't know. 

Sculthorpe Mill is located just outside Fakenham.

Sculthorpe Mill was named as best place to stay in the east of England by the Sunday Times - Credit: Andrew Waddison / AW PR

"We have not had any cancellations from people who have said they are worried about the new variant - just a few from people who have tested positive, but that has become normal.

"I think local people have been quite stoic and are not hysterical by any stretch. They are playing it by ear and we are just taking things day by day.

"We are taking bookings for New Year's Eve, but we are aware we may need to dampen down the celebrations. 

"Overall, people are not cancelling, but are booking with the knowledge that they may have to cancel."

'Trade is down' 

Over in Dereham, Damon Harris of Harris Hardware said it was far from an easy situation in which to trade. 

The town centre store would be permitted to stay open due to its status as "essential", but Mr Harris remains worried. 

Damon Harris and his wife, Mel, who together run Harris Hardware in the centre of Dereham

Damon Harris, of Harris Hardware in Dereham, with his wife Mel - Credit: Archant

“We are concerned that there is the possibility of more lockdowns," he added. 

"Even though we'd be able to stay open, it affects trade. 

“We were already concerned about how January would be anyway. With the new variant, people get even more apprehensive about coming out.

“Trade is down and we’ve not had the Christmas sale we have had in the past. I would not say it is any worse since Omicron hit, but it has not improved." 

'Not a normal Christmas' 

Mujibur ‘Diego’ Rahman, owner of Fakenham Tandoori, believes differing mask-wearing rules have left the public "confused". 

Mujibar Rahman, known as Diego, in the Fakenham Tandoori PICTURE: Matthew Farmer

Mujibar Rahman, known as Diego, at Fakenham Tandoori - Credit: Archant

He added that he was not expecting a typical festive season. 

"People are confused because bars, clubs and restaurants don’t need masks but, if this is a virus, then it's still going to be spreading," he said.  

"It’s not going to be a normal Christmas for me. People are making bookings but, at the same time, I am seeing cancellations come through as well.

"Traders will definitely be affected by the uncertainty."

Face masks are still being encouraged among staff and customers at Fakenham Tandoori, which is also trying to maintain social distancing. 

'Our worry is more restrictions' 

The team at Tuddenham Lodge is, for now, staying calm about the current situation.

Gavin and Victoria Hunt, who run Tuddenham Lodge, are through to the semi-final of the Licensee of t

Victoria Hunt (right), who runs Tuddenham Lodge with her husband, Gavin, is nervous about the possibility of tighter restrictions - Credit: Matt Sturman Photography

But Victoria Hunt, who runs the pub alongside her husband Gavin, admitted the reintroduction of tighter restrictions would wreak havoc with their festive plans. 

She said: "The talk of Omicron has not affected us massively yet, touch wood.

“We have had a few cancellations, but more from people who have got Covid rather than those who are worried about catching it. Just small tables where a member of the party has got it.

“We are not worried about masks being brought back as we have kept that through the whole thing, and we still do temperature checks. 

"At the moment, our worry is restrictions being brought in - like one household per table. That would cancel out all the Christmas party bookings.

"The biggest fear of all is shutting down hospitality all together. That is always a worry, but I do not think it will get to that."

'Demand for holidays is huge'

Despite recent changes to travel rules due to the Omicron variant, Hays Travel - which has a branch in Fakenham - says customers are still keen to go away. 

A man walks past Hays Travel in Ipswich. PICTURE: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Hays Travel, which has a branch in Fakenham, says there is still high demand for holidays - Credit: Archant

Boss of the company, Irene Hays, added: "Many customers are finding out from friends and family who have travelled recently that the requirements are not too onerous.

"They are wanting to book now for next year to ensure they get the best choice of destination, accommodation and price.

"The demand for holidays is huge. There is still strong consumer confidence in safe travel, using price guarantees, insurance and the advice of reliable travel agents."