People could get a drink in a pub, have a meal in a restaurant or get a haircut for the first time in over three months on Saturday as England took its biggest steps yet towards resumption of normal life.
Pubs were allowed to start serving from 6am, sparking worries of over-indulgence on what the media dubbed a “Super Saturday” of coronavirus restrictions being eased. Some hairdressers were reported to have opened at the stroke of midnight.
The Holland Tringham pub in south London, part of the JD Wetherspoon chain, opened at 8am and was about three-quarters full by 11.20am.
"It's beautiful just to get back and have a pint," said Jim Martin, a 56-year-old carpenter.
Julie Scott, a 43-year-old teacher, was there with her family for drinks and food.
“I think it’s just where everyone gets to socialise and catch up with people that they haven’t seen...it’s nice to just get together,” she said.
Others complained that the lockdown, which began in late March and has been gradually eased in recent weeks, had lasted too long.
"It's about time they opened them up," said pensioner Ron Lock.
Police chiefs are worried the reopening of pubs could fuel drunken and irresponsible behaviour, while hospitals have been warned to prepare for a New Year’s Eve-style weekend.
"There's an element of decompression going on, particularly with younger people who've had some very responsible parents keeping them in over recent weeks," Marc Jones, Police and Crime Commissioner for Lincolnshire, told BBC radio.
One pub near Ashford in Kent opened despite a car crashing into its front in the early hours of Saturday morning.
The Swan Inn at Little Chart, near Ashford in Kent, was still serving pints to customers outside despite the landlord being woken by the devastation at around 2am on Saturday. Ray Perkins told the PA news agency: "It was absolutely devastating because obviously we were opening today. "We've had everybody rally round and clear up the bar, every single glass has had to be washed again." He added: "We've got open, we've managed to open the pub – not inside, only outside."
In another relaxation of lockdown rules two households can now meet indoors as long as social distancing is maintained, and overnight stays are allowed.
The rule changes apply only to England as Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have been setting their own timetables for easing lockdown restrictions.
On Saturday evening, the UK’s department of health and social care said a further 67 people had died having tested positive for Covid-19.
British prime minister Boris Johnson called on people to behave responsibly and respect social distancing regulations as the risk of a resurgence of coronavirus remains. Mindful of an economy that has taken a hammering because of the lockdown, he also stressed the importance of supporting businesses.
“The success of these businesses, the livelihoods of those who rely on them, and ultimately the economic health of the whole country is dependent on every single one of us acting responsibly,” he said at a news conference on Friday. “We must not let them down.”
Pub-goers will find the atmosphere rather different from the usual Saturday-night scrum.
Numbers are limited, no one can stand at the bar and there will be no live music. Patrons will also have to give their details to allow tracers to identify them if anyone later tests positive.
Wetherspoons, which is one of the UK’s biggest chains, said it had invested £11 million (€12.2m) in safety measures.
It is not taking bookings, but said at busy times numbers would be controlled by staff. – Reuters