Shoppers and drinkers take advantage of new freedoms as lockdown restrictions eased

12 April 2021, 20:59 | Updated: 12 April 2021, 23:38

Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the nation to "behave responsibly" as life took another step back towards normality
Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the nation to "behave responsibly" as life took another step back towards normality. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Shoppers flocked to high streets and drinkers downed pints as coronavirus restrictions were lifted in England today.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the nation to "behave responsibly" as life took another step back towards normality, with indoor gyms, swimming pools, nail salons and zoos also welcoming customers back.

People in Wales were also enjoying renewed freedoms from Monday, with non-essential retail reopened and border restrictions eased to permit travel again with the rest of the UK and Ireland.

Remaining school pupils returned to face-to-face teaching in Wales and Northern Ireland, in moves being echoed in Scotland as some pupils return from their Easter breaks.

The "stay at home" order in Northern Ireland also ended as the number of people permitted to meet outdoors increased from six to 10.

Police patrolled busy London streets as people returned to the city’s centre.

Many routes were shut to traffic until 11pm to create more outdoor seating space.

Attila Kulcsar, a media communications manager, said the crowds felt "like a return to the 'real' Soho of the 1990s".

Customers receive their drinks in Soho
Customers receive their drinks in Soho. Picture: PA

"Tonight's atmosphere beats the whole of last summer... it really is like how I imagine VE Day," the 54-year-old told the PA news agency.

"It's almost like watching Hogarth paintings come to life in 2021. There is a wonderfully raucous hysteria everywhere. It's very celebratory.

"There is very little social distancing. A distinct sense that people feel the Covid restrictions have ended.”

Westminster City Council said it was aware of “isolated incidents of crowding” and would work with businesses to ensure they operate “responsibly and safely”.

Snow showers and cold breezes made al fresco socialising a chilly prospect in parts of southern England, but at the Royal Victoria Pavilion in Ramsgate, believed to be the biggest pub in the country, thirsty customers cheered as the first pints were served.

READ MORE: Customers scramble into shop as non-essential retail reopens in England

READ MORE: PM urges millions to 'behave responsibly' as England's lockdown eases

Revellers took to Soho on the first day pubs returned in England
Revellers took to Soho on the first day pubs returned in England. Picture: PA

As Pippa Ingram, 51, received the first drink to be poured, she said: "Absolutely delicious. It's not gonna last long at all! That is banging."

The Oak Inn in Coventry opened its doors shortly after midnight, with marquees, heaters and blankets for customers in the large beer garden - but council officials are investigating after videos posted on social media showed more than 100 people queuing in the street outside pub.

In Birmingham, a lengthy queue developed outside the city centre Primark store before it opened its doors.

Retail analysts Springboard said that footfall across all retail destinations in the UK was up 146% by 5pm on Monday compared to the same time a week ago.

London's main shopping streets saw around 44 per cent of the pre-pandemic level of April visitors, slightly up on expectations.

Dragons' Den star Theo Paphitis has told LBC that the re-opening of non-essential retail in England is "quite exhilarating".

Mr Paphitis, who owns Ryman, Robert Dyas and Boux Avenue, told LBC: "To actually get colleagues back to work and visit the stores today and see people back in those really is like taking a breath after being under water for a very long time. It has been quite exhilarating."

PureGym owner Humphrey Cobbold told LBC: “If I could show you a picture you'd see a gym absolutely in a very socially distanced and safe way, full of very happy people working getting back to routines of activity, disciplines of physical wellbeing that helps mental wellbeing as well.

“I’m as confident as I can be looking around the room this morning that people want to come back and get into a routine of fitness and activity.”

But Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of New West End Company which represents 600 businesses on Oxford Street, Bond Street, Regent Street and in Mayfair said "until international shoppers return the West End businesses will continue to need extra government support".

Despite the relaxation in lockdown rules, social mixing indoors will remain heavily restricted, with around two in five adults yet to receive their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and the vast majority yet to get both.

Mr Johnson said: "I urge everyone to continue to behave responsibly and remember 'Hands, face, space and fresh air' to suppress Covid as we push on with our vaccination programme."

The need for continued vigilance was underlined by former government chief scientific adviser Sir David King, who highlighted a surge in cases in Chile despite a successful vaccination campaign.

He said: "From the point of view of the population itself, we're all dying to get out of lockdown.

"From the point of view of the epidemic, I think it's all a little bit more worrying."

He added: "Chile is a country where the rate of vaccination amongst the population was third highest in the world, they were ahead of us in terms of the number of people who have had the vaccine, and they're suddenly now into a third wave."

Modelling by Government advisers in the UK has suggested Monday's relaxation will not result in a surge of cases that would put pressure on the NHS, but it is "highly likely" there will be a further resurgence in hospital admissions and deaths after subsequent steps along the road map out of lockdown.

Mr Johnson postponed his celebratory pint, although he found time for a haircut, and Government communications have been pared back to essential messages after Philip's death on Friday at the age of 99.

Secret Spa co-owner Emily Ewart-Perks, who opened her beauty company's at-home salon services up for clients at midnight, said Monday's bookings are set to double the company's best-ever day to date.

She added: "It's so amazing.

"It's just been such a long time coming."

In England, pubs and restaurants have been making changes during lockdown to maximise their ability to serve customers outside.

But the British Beer and Pub Association estimates that just 40 per cent of licensed premises have the space to reopen for outdoor service.

In response to the easing of restriction, the Metropolitan Police said it will be "stepping up" patrols in high footfall areas from Monday.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Jane Connors said: "Of course, where we need to take action against those who dangerously flout the rules we will do."

The next significant date is May 17, when socialising indoors will be permitted under the "rule of six", if the Prime Minister judges that the vaccination programme is safely breaking the link between infections and deaths.