Britons on Monday toasted a significant easing of coronavirus restrictions, with early morning pints -- and much-needed haircuts -- as the country took a tentative step towards the resumption of normal life.
Some pubs, now allowed to serve outside, wasted no time and opened on the stroke of midnight. Others opened later — but still much earlier than normal, and just in time for breakfast.
“I work the night shifts in the hospital,” said Richard Newman, a 32-year-old doctor at the Royal London Hospital, as he waited with friends outside the Half Moon pub in east London at 9:00 am (0800 GMT).
“Hopefully, it’s the end of lockdown but who knows? What does it represent? Hopefully a nice summer. It should be fun, bringing back a bit of life to London.”
Bundled up in coats and hats, customers sat chatting and laughing at outside tables, ordering beers, wine and full English breakfasts of eggs, bacon and sausages.
By mid-morning the pub had served over 100 breakfasts and 50 pints of lager.
“For the past few months we’ve never been able to go out together, celebrate and get through it,” said 28-year-old Laura Bennett.
“I’m having a lot of fun.”
Zoos, gyms and swimmers-
On London’s Oxford Street, some shoppers braved the chilly temperatures to start queueing at 5.30 am, two hours before the first non-essential shops such as fast-fashion chain Primark opened.
Also able to reopen are barbers and hairdressers and demand for much-needed trims was high, more than three months after the latest stay-at-home order was imposed.
In east London, Adam Yours waited outside Jimmy Slicks barber’s, desperate to lose his long hair.
“The first thing on the list is to get a haircut so you can go to the pub and look respectable”, said the 22-year-old.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had his unruly mop of blond hair cut, his official spokesman told reporters.
As sports and leisure facilities reopened in England, people plunged into pools and lifted weights.
Families flocked to see lions and elephants at Chester Zoo in northwest England and thrillseekers took rides at Thorpe Park theme park southwest of London.
Self-catering domestic holidays are also allowed and bookings have soared.
Mosques are meanwhile preparing for the start of Ramadan this week, a year after the Muslim holy month was observed without traditional community gatherings.
Johnson called the easing of restrictions “a major step forward in our roadmap to freedom” while urging British people to “continue to behave responsibly”.
Johnson had promised to toast the latest easing with a celebratory pint at a pub beer garden — a year to the day since he left hospital after contracting Covid-19.
The emphasis is still on outdoor activities to prevent spread of the virus through close contact indoors.
But Johnson has put his plans on hold since the country went into mourning after the death of head of state Queen Elizabeth II’s husband Prince Philip, aged 99.
The new rules on pub opening only apply to England, while non-essential shops also reopened in Wales. The UK countries all have different strategies for leaving lockdown.
Government ministers, scientists and health officials are warning the public against complacency, even after more than 60 percent of adults have received a first dose of a Covid vaccine.
Vaccination is being seen as the main way to prevent more serious cases of Covid-19 that require hospital treatment, after a surge in infections — and deaths — late last year.
Britain has recorded more than 4.3 million positive cases since the outbreak began and over 127,000 deaths — one of the worst tolls in the world.
Its economy has also been devastated by a year of enforced closures and restrictions, prompting consideration of new measures to ensure businesses stay open in the future.
One possibility is so-called “vaccine passports” but that has triggered debate about whether they would be effective or enforced — and the implications for civil liberties.
There is also increasing pressure for a decision on resuming non-essential international travel, with many eager to book foreign holidays.
Johnson has said the government will be driven by data, not dates, in its reopening plan, with the next anticipated easing due on May 17.
All social restrictions are scheduled to be lifted on June 21.