The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has announced that pubs in England can reopen on July 4 after over three months of closure due to coronavirus.
Johnson made the announcement as part of an easing of lockdown measures for hospitality, culture and tourism to help kickstart Britain’s stalled economy.
Lawmakers in parliament cheered as he called time on the first countrywide closures of all pubs since the Great Plague of 1665, and following a record slump in beer sales.
Calling the moves an end to the country’s “national hibernation”, Johnson said there must be “minimum contact” between staff and customers, with table service only.
Regulars would also have to give contact details in case of any local outbreak.
“I can’t wait to get back to the pub… and I don’t even drink,” tweeted finance minister Rishi Sunak, calling the package of easing measures “good news for business”.
The government has come under pressure over its handling of the COVID-19 crisis and its tentative efforts to reopen the country, with fears of a deep recession after the lockdown shrank the economy by more than a fifth in April alone.
An Oxford Economics study for the Creative Industries Federation last week said 200,000 jobs were at risk, with theatre revenues down by £3 billion ($3.8bln, 3.3bln euros).
The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) said sales of beer slumped to their lowest level on record in the first quarter of this year, and the industry faced a “cliff edge”.
Johnson has acknowledged the closures on March 20 were “extraordinary” and took away “the inalienable right” of Britons to go to the pub.
He has faced lobbying, particularly from pub and restaurant-owners, to relax the two-metre social distancing rule to help businesses get back on their feet.
“Where it is possible to keep two metres apart, people should,” he said, announcing the results of a review into the guidance.
“But where it is not, we will advise people to keep a social distance of one metre plus while taking mitigations to reduce the risk of transmission.”
BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin called the reopening “the first step on what will be a very a long road to recovery”.
The relaxation of the two-metre rule would allow up to 28,000 pubs, or 75 percent of the total in England, to open, compared to only a third at two metres, she added.
McClarkin urged the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to follow suit.
Cinemas, museums and galleries will also reopen on July 4, as well as restaurants, hotels, bed and breakfast (B&B) and self-catering accommodation.
Shuttered barbers and hairdressers were likewise given the green light to resume business from the same date in what was being dubbed “trimdependence day” on social media.
But Johnson said all firms would have to comply with measures to cut close-contact transmission of the virus, even as the number of new cases and deaths declines.
The head of the Confederation of Business Leaders (CBI), Carolyn Fairbairn, said government guidance would be “critical for success”.
Rules on two separate households meeting up indoors, and the closure of libraries, social clubs, community centres and playgrounds were also relaxed.
Prayer and services will be allowed again at places of worship, and weddings of up to 30 people.
Stay-at-home measures were imposed on March 23 as the virus took hold.
The British government has recorded nearly 43,000 deaths of those who had tested positive for COVID-19, the worst toll in Europe, after announcing another 171 fatalities on Tuesday.
However, the real figure is likely closer to 60,000, based on excess deaths official statistics.
Even as the numbers of cases and deaths fall, scientists have warned about moving too fast to reopen the country, given fresh spikes overseas and fears of a second wave of infection.
Johnson urged people “to take advantage of the freedoms that they are rightly reacquiring” but called for responsible behaviour, using common sense.
“From now on we will ask people to follow guidance on social contact instead of legislation,” he added.