The pints are being poured and the unkempt hairdos are being cut and styled as England embarks Saturday on its biggest lockdown easing yet.
In addition to the reopening of much of the hospitality sector, including pubs and restaurants, for the first time in more than three months, couples can tie the knot once again and people can go and see a movie at the cinema.
Museums and libraries have also reopened but gyms, swimming pools and nail bars remain shut. Restrictions on travel and social contact have been eased — people from different households can now go into each other’s homes, for example.
And many of those despairing at what they see in the mirror can finally get their hair trimmed. In all cases, social distancing rules have to be followed.
“It was getting frustrating that I couldn’t get my hair cut,” said William Brown, a 25-year-old plant engineer at Headley’s Barber Shop in Blaby, central England.
“It was doing my head in to be honest, I’m just glad it’s gone now,” he added.
Stephanie Headley, the 35-year-old owner, was equally relieved to be back in business for the fist time since the full lockdown was announced on March 23.
Headley said she was a “little bit anxious” and that she has been inundated with booking appointments after Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the latest easing of the lockdown last week.
“I can’t wait to see all the dodgy haircuts that have come out of quarantine,” she said.
Though the easing of the lockdown will be warmly welcomed by many, there are concerns that the British government is being overly hasty, even reckless, in sanctioning the changes, given the country’s still-high coronavirus infection and death rates. In other countries, the reopening of bars and restaurants has been blamed for a spike in infections.
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On Friday, another 137 virus-related deaths were recorded across the U.K., the large majority in England, taking the total to 44,131, by far the highest in Europe and third behind the United States and Brazil.
Johnson says the decision to ease the lockdown is based on the scientific evidence that people are “appreciably less likely now to be in close proximity” with someone with the virus than at the height of the pandemic.
“Let’s not blow it now,” he said.
The greatest source of concern is centred on pubs and what will happen when thirsty customers have had one too many. Bas Javid, a commander at London’s Metropolitan Police, has urged people in the capital to “remain responsible and follow social distancing as lockdown restrictions are lifted further this weekend.”
Though the social distancing guidelines will mean going to pubs and restaurants is inevitably going to be a different experience to the one enjoyed pre-lockdown, business is expected to be brisk on Saturday, with some warning that the night could end up being as busy as New Year’s Eve.
That’s likely to be particularly true in pubs, which have been able to open from 6 a.m. They have an array of regulations to meet, from registering customers upon entrance to making sure tables are far enough apart to meet social distancing rules. Pubs and restaurants have to ensure that people are spaced at least one meter apart from those from another household if other measures to keep people safe are in place, such as using hand sanitizers. Wearing masks, even by staff, is optional.
Still, customers said the rigmarole was worth it.
“It’s not the drink, it’s the banter with everyone else,” said Frank Green, a regular of The Shropshire Arms, in the northwest England city of Chester.
The lockdown has posed an existential threat to many sectors, not least for England’s 37,500 pubs, and their reopening offers some hope.
Britain’s Treasury chief Rishi Sunak said the hospitality sector is “a vital part” of the British economy, and is set to suffer one of its deepest recessions in 300 years.
“Britain’s pubs and bars alone employ almost half a million people, which is why it’s such good news that so many people are able to return to work this weekend, helping us all to enjoy summer safely,” he said.
The four nations of the U.K. — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – are easing the lockdown at different speeds.
One city that is not participating in the easing is Leicester, in central England. The government reimposed lockdown restrictions there, including the closure of schools and nonessential shops, after a spike in new infections. Police are out in force in the city to make sure people adhere to the local lockdown
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