'WE’RE back’ - York welcomed the next stage of reopening today as lockdown restrictions were lifted further.

Residents and visitors can expect a "very warm welcome" as indoor hospitality including cafes, restaurants, pubs, cinemas, museums and hotels reopen. Some larger events can also take place - including the first match with fans present at the new LNER Community Stadium on Saturday.

Andrew Lowson, director of the York Business Improvement District (BID), said today promises to be a major step towards York getting back to normal.

He said businesses have stepped up their Covid safety measures in preparation for reopening.

It had been significant when pubs and restaurants were allowed to open to outdoor customers on April 12, he said. But this would be more so.

York’s new outdoor seating had proved popular, he said. And being able to find somewhere to sit had undoubtedly helped bring people into the city centre.

“But the fact that people can (now) go indoors – that will make a big difference!” he said.

“Full opening will benefit retail. Hotels will be open, people will be able to stay in York longer, they will be able to go indoors if the weather isn’t great.”

There are already some encouraging signs that more visitors will soon start to come to York, he said. Some hotels were reporting occupancy rates of about 17 per cent. “That’s good!”

But he warned some businesses which are very tourist-oriented might still struggle for a while.

There will be very few foreign visitors. Domestic tourism might be able to partly make up for that.

“But local people won’t be buying tea-towels in Shambles or mementoes from York Minster,” he said.

A new city centre Covid testing site opened in St William's College last week where visitors and residents can get a walk-in appointment seven days a week. And the public health team said everyone must check in with their contact details at any venue they visit - with every member of the group checking in individually rather than one person for the entire group.

People out and about in York city centre last week were looking forward to the city being able to reopen properly.

“I have restaurant plans for my birthday!” said University of York student Isabella Rockey, who was sitting with her friend and flatmate Darcie Crawford at an outdoor table in College Street. “And it will be so nice to be able to visit people’s homes!”

Elaine Davies, sitting with her friend Sue Armitage at a table in Exhibition Square, said she was going to take things carefully for a while, and wouldn’t be rushing out for a drink or a meal.

“All I’m going to do is see my kids,” she said.

But Sue admitted she was looking forward to enjoying a meal or a drink indoors. “It will be nice to be able to sit indoors for a coffee!” she said. “And I’m looking forward to a meal out!”

Mr Lowson said there will not be a "huge programme of events or activities" in the coming weeks in order to ease the lifting of restrictions.

But he said there may be events later in the summer, including Yorkshire Day celebrations, sports and food and drink festivals.

Cllr Carol Runciman said some people may be feeling nervous about restrictions being eased but added: "Do go out, get out in the fresh air, go to visit your local shop perhaps, which isn't so busy, and you will probably find you'll get a very warm welcome."