YORK city centre at 3pm on Wednesday afternoon was an odd mix of busy and quiet; like a sleeping giant just beginning to awaken from a long slumber

A few ‘essential’ shops - shops like Boots and Barnitts - were open. And outside Stam and Maria’s cafe on the corner of Parliament Street and Shambles market, a polite, socially distanced queue had formed for takeaway coffee. But the crowds were thin, and the people who had been drawn to the city centre were wandering around in a lost, aimless sort of way - the way people do in a normally busy city centre where most things are closed.

Look closely, however, and everywhere you could see signs of a city preparing to awaken after a long slumber. In the beer garden at the side of the Red Lion pub on Merchantgate, workmen were busy building a series of wooden pod seats ready for the big re-opening on Monday. Everywhere you looked, new signs had sprouted, proclaiming ‘Let’s Keep York Open: hands, face, space.’ And non-essential shops’, closed for so long during lockdown, were stirring into life.

York Press:

Another Let's Keep York Open sign in St Sampson's Square.

At jewellery store Palenque on Low Petergate, owner Susana Heard was busy arranging a flower display in the window ready for Monday.

The business had kept going online throughout lockdown, Susana said. “But there’s nothing like face-to-face with your customers. Jewellery is such a tactile thing!”

At York Fine Arts down the street, Alan Short was polishing the brass handles on his shop door. His business had survived partly because of government subsidies during lockdown, he said. “But I’m looking forward to opening.”

Phil Pinder of York Retail Forum said in recent days, shopkeepers and businesses such as hair salons and pubs and cafés with outside seating areas had all been ‘gearing up’ for Monday. “We can’t wait to welcome people back!” he said.

Businesses and the council have known for some time, of course, that April 12 is the day when York will be able to at least partly open for business again.

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Susana Heard preparing a window display at jewellery store Palenque on Low Petergate

Andrew Lowson of York BID counsels against expecting there to be hordes of visitors in the city on Monday, however. The opening up is phased, he points out. Restaurants, pubs and cafés won’t be able to open up their indoor seating until May 17 at the earliest. Given that restaurants and bars are one of the things that bring people into a city centre, he expects Monday’s re-opening to be fairly low-key.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, he says. The council has been working with organisations like the York BID and Make It York for weeks to make sure the city is ready. A phased re-opening with not too many people rushing back at once will be a good way to test all the preparations and make sure everything works, Andrew says.

So what measures have been put in place to make sure that, when people do return to York’s shops, street cafés and beer gardens on Monday, they can do so safely?

Here are some of the things you can expect to see...

Social distancing

You’ll still need to wear face masks to go into shops - and everyone who goes into a shop will need to zap a barcode at the door, for test and trace purposes, says Phil Pinder. Shops will have hygiene stations, and many will have one-way systems. There are also those ‘hands, face, space’ signs everywhere, reminding people of the importance of social distancing, facemasks and hand hygiene.

York’s director of public health Sharon Stoltz said: “It’s important that we remember that Coronavirus is still part of our lives and we need to protect each other. Covid loves a crowd so please avoid them where you can and wear a face covering in busy public spaces.”

Covid Marshalls

City of York Council’s Covid Marshalls will be around to check businesses are complying with Covid-guidance, to discourage people from gathering in large groups and to advise shoppers and visitors about face masks. They will also be helping to keep public areas Covid-safe by wiping down traffic crossing buttons and picking up dropped face masks. Where necessary, they will also be working with York BID Rangers and North Yorkshire Police to support them when dealing with ‘challenging or unsafe behaviour’.

Temporary extra toilets

There will be a tented area on Parliament Street which will contain seating and temporary additional toilets. Permanent toilets will also be open in the Coppergate centre, Nunnery Lane, St George’s Field, Rougier Street, St Leonards Place, Silver Street and Union Terrace.

Extra seats

The council has been working with York BID to provide extra seats in the city centre. Manywill be in Parliament Street, but there will be others scattered around the city centre. Some will be wooden benches; others will be funkier designs intended to bring a bit of colour to the streets. Many of the extra seats won’t be in place by Monday, however - you may have to wait until next Friday or Saturday to see them.

Extra litter bins

Extra litter bins will be provided across the city centre, says City of York Council, and street cleaning will also be stepped up.

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Getting York's streets ready for visitors...

Street cafés

Just as they were last summer, footstreet areas - Blake Street, St Helens Square, Lendal, Goodramgate, King’s Square, Colliergate, Castlegate and Fossgate - will have extended hours, from 10.30am to 8pm, when vehicles aren’t allowed. During these hours, bars and cafés that have licenses will be able to have street tables.

College Green

Like last summer, York Minster has given permission for tables on College Green. There won’t be a tent this time, just chairs and tables. But it is great news for hospitality businesses that need a bit of outdoor space, says Andrew Lowson. “And it will be something for locals to enjoy’.

Street Art

As you wander around the city centre, you will see a series of larger-than-life ‘urban art’ portraits. The 11 portraits by internationally acclaimed street artist collective ‘The Postman’ each represent a key worker or 'Guardian' - a nurse, police officer, rescue boat volunteer or the like - who has done their bit to keep York safe during lockdown.

The portraits are a collaboration between York BID and Art of Protest. Look out for them...

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Urban street art on Fossgate celebrating one of York’s ‘Guardians’

Will you need a vaccine passport to go into a shop?

Not yet, at least. “We are currently awaiting details from the government as to what a Covid certification programme would look like,” a spokesperson for the city council said.

Covid testing

To try to minimise the risk of coronavirus spreading again, the city council is urging people to get tested for Covid regularly.

“We have made it easier for people to get a symptom-free test by opening more sites and offering a collect option,” says Sharon Stolrz. Symptom-free tests are available at the University of York, York St John University and the York Stadium leisure complex - and, from Monday, will also be available at Foxwood community centre.

To find out more visit york.gov.uk/SymptomFreeCovidTest