Pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and cinemas in England are opening their doors for the first time in three months after a major relaxation of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Businesses reopening on Saturday must observe strict social distancing rules.
As measures eased, Boris Johnson urged people to act responsibly, while the government’s scientific advisers said the latest step was not “risk-free”.
The health secretary has warned those who get carried away could be jailed.
Matt Hancock told the Daily Mail people were entitled to enjoy themselves at pubs, but added: “You could end up behind bars if you break the law.”
Latest figures show a further 137 people have died after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK, bringing the total number of deaths to 44,131.
Restaurants, hairdressers and cinemas were allowed to reopen just after midnight, with some hair salons welcoming clients in the early hours, but pubs had to wait until 06:00 BST after Downing Street expressed fears of early morning partying.
Other places now allowed to reopen in England include:
- Outdoor gyms, children’s playgrounds and other outdoor spaces
- Libraries, community centres, bingo halls, cinemas, museums and galleries
- Funfairs and theme parks, amusement arcades, outdoor skating rinks, social clubs and model villages
- Places of worship can open for prayers and services, including weddings with up to 30 guests
Two households of any size will also be able to meet indoors or outside, including for overnight stays.
Mr Johnson said a timetable for reopening other businesses including gyms, nail salons and night clubs would be set out next week.
However, in Leicester pubs and other facilities remain closed as the city became the first local lockdown on Monday following a spike in Covid-19 cases.
Police in the city said they were preparing for a busy weekend, with more officers on duty than during a typical New Year’s Eve.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said people should make the most of the easing to boost the economy, telling the Times: “We need to relearn what it’s like to go out again.”
Mr Sunak said while people should act responsibly, eating out will help protect jobs in the struggling hospitality sector.
Social distancing rules in England have also changed from 2m to “one metre plus” – meaning people should stay more than 1m apart and take additional precautions when they are less than 2m from someone else.
Epidemiologist Professor Robert West, from University College London, urged caution as lockdown eases, telling BBC Breakfast: “The virus still is with us. We are looking at around 20,000 new infections a week and around 1,000 deaths a week and the rates aren’t coming down very fast so people have to be tremendously cautious here.”
He said the hospitality sector is doing “everything” it can to reopen safely, but added: “As we open up these businesses you will get more contact… and that means you will get more infections and unfortunately it means you will get more deaths.”
This is a big moment. Hospitality chiefs have described it as an important development for the national psyche.
But it’s also a moment when health and economic concerns collide.
Trade body Hospitality UK estimates that 53% of pubs and bars and 47% of restaurants will reopen this weekend generating a total – they hope – of nine million visits.
But while a sector that employs three million people is keen to reopen, many are anxious. Will too many customers return to manage venues safely or too few to make it economically worthwhile?
Social distancing measures will both reduce capacity and increase front-line costs.
Three-quarters of businesses expect to run their businesses at a loss this year and the industry estimates that even if this weekend goes well, the sector could lose 320,000 jobs.
It is a high-stakes gamble and the government will be watching nervously to see how the public responds and behaves.
That will ultimately determine whether we are getting a sufficient economic bang for the health risk buck that medical experts say we are inevitably spending this weekend.
Feeling ‘normal again’
Sandra Jacobs was one of the first people through the door at her local hairdressers in Camden, north London, on Friday night, describing it as “such a relief” to be back in the salon chair.
“My hair was everywhere. I’d been wearing hats to hide it,” she said, adding that her new haircut made her feel “normal again”.
Her hairdresser, Carole Rickaby, said it was great to pick up the scissors again. “We’re being very cautious with aprons and facemasks, but it can be a bit of a problem,” she said. “I wear glasses, so wearing a mask as well made my glasses steam up whenever I tried to talk.
“I ended up just telling Sandra she can talk to me and I’ll just listen.”
Meanwhile, Prince William visited a village pub in Norfolk which had been closed since March.
What is happening in the rest of the UK?
Each UK nation’s lockdown measures differ, including varying rules on the reopening of food and drink outlets.
In Northern Ireland, pubs and restaurants could reopen on Friday.
In Scotland, beer gardens and outdoor restaurants will be allowed to reopen from 6 July, and indoor areas can be used from 15 July.
The Welsh government has promised talks with the hospitality sector about a “potential phased” reopening, but no dates have yet been given.
In other developments:
- Recreational cricket could resume from next weekend, the prime minister has said
- Almost 30,000 more care home residents in England and Wales died during the coronavirus outbreak than during the same period in 2019, ONS figures show
- Portugal has said its exclusion from a list of countries for which quarantine will not apply for people returning to England is “absurd”
- Dozens of landmarks across the country will be lit up blue later to mark 72 years since the founding of the NHS
- THE FUTURE OF THE THEATRE INDUSTRY: Dame Judi Dench on the impact of coronavirus
- TALKING HEADS: Imelda Staunton and Sarah Lancashire take on the much-loved monologues
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