5 Jul 2020

England reopens: 'Beautiful' to have a pint, 'brilliant' to get a haircut

7:40 am on 5 July 2020

People relished their first pub drinks in more than three months, went to restaurants and finally got haircuts as England took its biggest steps yet towards resumption of normal life after the coronavirus lockdown.

A member of bar staff wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) in the form of a face mask, serves customers with drinks outside the Wetherspoon pub, Goldengrove in Stratford in east London on July 4, 2020, as restrictions are further eased during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

A bartender serves customers at a pub in Stratford in east London. Photo: AFP

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 drink at The Holland Tringham pub in south London, part of the JD Wetherspoon chain. It opened at 8 am 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, had lasted too long.

"It's about time they opened them up," said pensioner Ron Lock.

Police chiefs worried the reopening of pubs could fuel drunken and irresponsible behaviour, while hospitals have been 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.

But many pubs stayed shut - although exactly how many is uncertain.

The Night-Time Industries Association said earlier that a third of all bars, pubs and restaurants would remain closed.

The national chairman of the Campaign for Real Ale said he's "seen figures of up to 50 percent of pubs actually not opening today".

Nik Antona said pubs were "opening up under uncertain circumstances. They don't know if they're going to get their customers back".

"What you are finding is, some of the pubs haven't even bothered opening today - they want to see what's going to happen," he added.

Customers enjoying their drinks in Soho during the "Super Saturday" in London, Britain, 04 July 2020.

Patrons flock to pubs in Soho in London. Photo: AFP

Haircuts a relief for many

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.

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.

Mark Lewis a 52-year old translator, welcomed the lockdown's easing. "It's enjoyable to have a haircut but it's also nice to feel smart again," he said.

A hair stylist wears a PPE facemask as she works at a hair salon in Birkenhead, north west England on July 4, 2020. -

A hairdresser wearing a face mask works at a hair salon in Birkenhead, north west England. Photo: AFP

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 that 15 million pints (8.5 million litres) of beer would be sunk in England on Saturday, though some pub-goers may be deterred by rainy, windy weather.

Johnson called on people to behave responsibly and respect social distancing regulations as the risk of a resurgence of the coronavirus remains. He also stressed the importance of supporting businesses.

"We must not let them down," he said.

Pub-goers will find the atmosphere rather different from the usual Saturday-night scrum.

Numbers are limited, no one can stand at the bar and there will be no live music. Patrons will also have to give their details to allow tracers to identify them if anyone later tests positive.

- Reuters / BBC

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