People relished their first pub drinks in more than three months, went to restaurants, and finally got haircuts on Saturday as England took its biggest steps yet towards resumption of normal life after the coronavirus lockdown.
Some pubs started serving from 6am, sparking worries of over-indulgence on what the media dubbed a “Super Saturday” of restrictions being eased. Some hairdressers were reported to have opened at the stroke of midnight.
“It’s beautiful just to get back and have a pint,” said Jim Martin, a 56-year old carpenter enjoying a beer at The Holland Tringham pub in south London. It opened at 8am and was about three-quarters full by 11:20am.
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, lasted too long.
“It’s about time they opened them up,” said pensioner Ron Lock.
Police officials worried the reopening of pubs could fuel drunken and irresponsible behaviour, while hospitals were 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.
Britain has been the European country worst hit by the coronavirus with more than 300,000 infections and an official death toll of 44,131.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has faced criticism from the opposition over its handling of the pandemic – including locking down later than some other parts of Europe – and is now anxious to get the battered economy moving again.
In the United States, the reopening of bars and restaurants has been blamed for a spike in infections as drinkers abandon social distancing after imbibing a few of their favourite tipples.
Men queuing for haircuts and busy hairdressing salons were a common sight across the country.
At Savvas Barbers in Streatham, south London, healthcare assistant Benjamin Prior, 31, said he normally gets a cut every month but has had to wait four months.
“It’s just brilliant to finally get a new haircut now, it’s the length I want, short as possible,” he said.
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 the devolved nations in the United Kingdom – Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – have been setting their own timetables for easing restrictions.
The Sun newspaper predicted 15 million pints (8.5 million litres) of beer would be consumed in England on Saturday.
Johnson called on people to behave responsibly and respect social distancing regulations as the risk of a resurgence of coronavirus remains. He also stressed the importance of supporting businesses.
12 o’clock, first customer in. Love it. pic.twitter.com/pBYm9rtejA
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) July 4, 2020
“We must not let them down,” he said at a news conference on Friday.
One pub-goer’s pint was immediately controversial.
Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, well known for his fondness for beer, tweeted a picture of himself in a reopened pub but was met by a storm of criticism and suggestions he should still be observing a 14-day quarantine as mandated for people travelling from the United States.
Farage attended a campaign rally for US President Donald Trump in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 20.
Ed Davey, the acting leader of the small opposition Liberal Democrats, said he reported Farage to the police.
Farage later tweeted he served his quarantine time, and had taken a test for the virus that was negative.