Coronavirus: caution urged as pubs and restaurants reopen in England

Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged revellers to 'not blow it now' as hairdressers also open for business

People queue outside Northfields Barber as it opens for the first time after the COVID-19 lockdown in London, Saturday, July 4, 2020. England is embarking on perhaps its biggest lockdown easing yet as pubs and restaurants have the right to reopen for the first time in more than three months. In addition to the reopening of much of the hospitality sector, couples can tie the knot once again, while many of those who have had enough of their lockdown hair can finally get a trim. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

England took a major step towards returning to normal life on Saturday as many restaurants, pubs and hairdressers reopened after more than three months of closure, albeit with strict social distancing measures in place.

Amid all the excitement senior officials urged caution after months of hard work, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson telling people “let’s not blow it now”.

Outdoor gyms, children’s playgrounds, libraries, cinemas, museums and galleries were also among the places allowed to reopen. People can now attend religious services and weddings can host up to 30 guests.

With pubs opening at 6am on a day that has been dubbed "Super Saturday", Health Minister Matt Hancock reminded revellers that those causing disorder "could end up behind bars if you break the law".

Health experts have cautioned that the virus is far from gone and that pubs were the ideal place for it to spread.

Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said: "None of us believe, and I'm sure nobody watching this believes, this is a risk-free next step. It is absolutely not, that is why we have to be really serious about it.

"There's no doubt these are environments whose principal job it is to bring people together, that's a great thing to do socially but it's also a great thing from the virus's point of view."

There also remains considerable disagreement across the UK with Scotland and Wales in particular continuing with much stricter regulations to prevent the spread of Covid 19.

As recently as Friday, the devolved administrations clashed over quarantine rules for overseas visitors.

The UK has been one of the countries hit hardest by the coronavirus, with more than 44,000 deaths and 284,000 confirmed cases.

Mr Johnson has had to contend with the competing concerns of protecting lives but also the economy.

His finance chief has warned that the UK is set to experience a severe recession but said the hospitality sector is “a vital part” of the British economy.

"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,” said Rishi Sunak.

A safety message is posted on a board at the The Shy Horse pub and restaurant in Chessington, Greater London on July 4, 2020, on the first day of a major relaxation of lockdown restrictions during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Pubs and restaurants reopen as part of a wider government plan to relaunch the hospitality, tourism and culture sectors and help the UK economy recover from more than three tough months of lockdown. / AFP / Ben STANSALL

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 metre apart from those from another household if other measures to keep people safe are in place, such as using hand sanitiser. Wearing masks, even by staff, is optional.

Prince William, second in line to the throne, was pictured visiting a pub in eastern England.

On social media, users seemed particularly excited about getting their hair cut.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan encouraged people to get out and support hard-hit businesses but continue to follow government health advice.

“As our city emerges from lockdown, I encourage Londoners to support the incredible businesses in their neighbourhoods. But, please do so sensibly: avoid public transport if possible, follow social distancing guidelines and wear a face covering if you’re able to,” he said.

Salon owner Sian Rose Maclaren, left, cuts and sticks a label for a box that will house masks clients can buy if they don't already have one, as they prepare to reopen at a franchise branch of the Headmasters group of hairdressing salons, in Surbiton, south west London, Thursday, July 2, 2020. Millions of people in Britain will be able to go to the pub, visit a movie theater, get a haircut or attend a religious service starting July 4, in a major loosening of coronavirus lockdown restrictions. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

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 infections. Police are out in force in the city to make sure people adhere to the lockdown.

In London seven police officers were injured after trying to break up an unlicensed music event, marking  the latest in a series of illegal gatherings in the city over the past couple of weeks that have descended into violence and seen police attacked.