Fancy a pint? Britain opens for business
LONDON: Britain has hit a target to offer a COVID-19 vaccine dose to all over-50s by mid-April, as England’s lockdown-weary population toasted a significant easing of restrictions with early morning pints and much-needed haircuts.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain had passed “another hugely significant milestone” after confirming a jab had been offered to all over-50s, the clinically vulnerable and health and social care workers, ahead of a self-imposed April 15 deadline.
“That means more than 32 million people have been given the precious protection vaccines provide against COVID-19,” he said, adding efforts would focus on delivering second doses and offering all adults an initial shot by August.
Mr Johnson had earlier hailed the latest lifting of rules as “a major step forward in our road map to freedom”, after pubs were allowed to reopen to serve drinkers outside and non-essential retailers and hairdressers restarted.
Some pubs, many shut for large chunks of the last year, wasted no time and opened on the stroke of midnight, while others opened just in time for breakfast.
“I work the night shifts in the hospital,” said Richard Newman, a 32-year-old doctor at the Royal London Hospital, as he waited with friends outside the Half Moon pub in east London at 9am.
“Hopefully, it’s the end of lockdown but who knows? What does it represent? Hopefully a nice summer. It should be fun, bringing back a bit of life to London.”
Bundled up in coats and hats, customers sat chatting and laughing at outside tables, ordering beers, wine and full English breakfasts of eggs, bacon and sausages.
“For the past few months we’ve never been able to go out together, celebrate and get through it,” said Laura Bennett, 28. “I’m having a lot of fun.”
On London’s Oxford Street, some shoppers braved the chilly temperatures to start queuing at 5.30am, two hours before the first non-essential shops such as fastfashion chain Primark opened.
Barbers and hairdressers were also able to restart, with high demand for much-needed trims more than three months after the latest stay-at-home order began.
The Prime Minister had his unruly mop of blond hair cut, his official spokesman said.
As sports and leisure centres reopened, people plunged into pools and lifted weights.
Self-catering domestic holidays are also allowed and bookings have soared. Mosques are meanwhile preparing for the start of Ramadan, a year after the Muslim holy month was observed without traditional community gatherings.
Monday’s pub reopenings applied only to England, while non-essential shops also reopened in Wales.
Government ministers, scientists and health officials are warning against complacency, despite the successful vaccine drive that is seen as the main way to prevent more serious cases of COVID-19 that require hospital treatment.
Although Britain recorded just 3568 new infections on Monday, it has seen more than 4.3 million cases since the pandemic began and over 127,000 deaths — one of the worst tolls in the world.
Its economy has also been devastated by a year of repeated enforced closures and restrictions, prompting consideration of new measures to ensure businesses stay open in the future.
One possibility is so-called “vaccine passports” but that has triggered debate about whether they would be effective or enforced — and implications for civil liberties. There is also increasing pressure for a decision on resuming non-essential international travel, with many eager to book foreign holidays.
Mr Johnson has said the reopening plan will be driven by data, not dates, but has set the next anticipated easing for May 17. Almost all remaining social restrictions are scheduled to be lifted on June 21.