Excited clubbers queued for more than an hour before packing themselves into nightclubs in England on the stroke of midnight as Covid restrictions were lifted.
Most nightclubs have been shuttered since the pandemic first hit in March last year with the businesses struggling to operate at all under the coronavirus measures.
But, despite cases spiking, Boris Johnson has pressed ahead with so-called ‘Freedom Day’ for England with most restrictions entirely scrapped – and an emphasis placed on personal responsibility to stop the spread of the virus.
Epidemiologists are generally skeptical that lifting restrictions is the right thing to do, but many young people have had enough of more than 1 1/2 years of lockdowns, and crave a party – good news for England’s 12,000 nightclubs.
Excited clubbers queued up for more than an hour outside EGG nightclub in north London ahead of its reopening at midnight. A countdown to midnight ensued which finished with cheers.
Fundraiser Chloe Waite, 37, described the reopening of the nightclub as “like New Year”.
“It’s a bit like New Year isn’t it? It’s going to be a special night,” she told the PA news agency.
“Whether we’ll have more of these in the future, who can say, I wouldn’t like to speculate. “For me this is a New Year’s-type event and something we’re going to remember for a long, long time and we might not get the opportunity for a while.”
Alex Clarke, 40, who joined her at the front of the queue, said: “There’s a bit of apprehension and uncertainty about the protocols.
“But as long as everyone is sensible then it’ll be alright.”
Gabriel Wildsmith, 26, a video producer from London, said he had been waiting for an hour to get into EGG. “I’m so excited I’ve been waiting for this for so long… basically since we locked down,” he said.
“I love going to clubs and I love meeting random people. “You make great friends and you couldn’t do that until tonight.” He added: “I’ve been here for an hour, I’m really keen.”
Liam Turner, 24, from Banbury said he was “so keen” and had “missed the buzz of being in a queue.”
“I have not been allowed to dance for like what seems like forever,” said Georgia Pike, 31, at the Oval Space in Hackney, east London.
“I want to dance, I want to hear live music, I want the vibe of being at a gig, of being around other people.”
“I am so excited – but its mixed with the sense of impending doom,” said Gary Cartmill, 26.
James Cox, the 32-year-old lead singer of Crows, a post-punk band playing at The Oval Space, said the last time he had performed live was on Halloween 2020.
“Before this, I had a bit of apprehension that I was not going to like it because its been so long,” Cox said.
“As soon as stood on that stage and started soundchecking, I was like: oh yeah I do like this, I do love this, I was like, this is my passion.”
What Covid rules are changing from today?
Today marks so-called “freedom day” in England when most remaining legal coronavirus restrictions are lifted. After months of pandemic-related constraints, the country has finally reached the last step in the Government’s unlocking road map.
What measures are going? It is official: social distancing limits are largely over, with no more “rule of six” and “one metre plus” restrictions. Groups of more than six people from multiple households will be able to hang out indoors and outdoors. Businesses will reopen, including shuttered nightclubs who can welcome party-goers back to dance floors.
Legal limits on mourners at funerals and those celebrating weddings will also end, as will school bubbles.
Can we all throw away our face masks too? It is complicated. Legally, face coverings will mostly no longer be mandatory in indoor settings. But the Government says it “expects and recommends” masks to be worn by workers and customers in crowded, enclosed spaces.
This could include using public transport or mixing with people you do not normally meet. The official message is one of “personal responsibility” and “informed choice”.
So where will face masks still be needed? In London, Sadiq Khan has said they will still be compulsory on the capital’s transport network. Passengers in bus stations operated by combined authorities West and South Yorkshire, on the North East’s Metro and Greater Manchester’s Metrolink tram services will also be required to wear them under local rules.
Supermarket chains – including Tesco, Asda, Lidl, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose – will encourage customers to keep masks on.
Are large events back on? Yes. From today people can begin enjoying concerts, theatre and sports events once again. The Government recommends businesses use “certification” as a basis of entry to venues deemed “high risk”.
Is this connected to talk of “vaccine passports”? In a sense, except action from businesses will not be mandatory, only recommended. Organisations are being encouraged to use the NHS Covid Pass – that gives details of someone’s vaccination or test result status and featured in large event trials – to help limit the risk of infection.
What about if I just want to go to the pub, will I need a pass then? Possibly. The Government is not being prescriptive about what venues could use the system, so it will be up to venue management or landlords themselves to decide if it will be necessary to guarantee the safety of staff and patrons.
Table service is recommended to continue in bars. Pub group JD Wetherspoon has said it will relax its face mask and table service rules for customers but will still encourage the use of its app for ordering.
What about Test and Trace? Could I still be pinged? Yes – positive Covid cases and their contacts identified by NHS Test and Trace will still be legally required to self-isolate. But amid what some have dubbed a “pingdemic”, businesses and unions have warned that Monday could become “chaos day” due to staff shortages triggered by workers having to self-isolate.
The self-isolation requirement will be abolished for contacts of positive cases for under 18s and for double vaccinated adults from August 16. Testing will still be available after July 19, while hotel quarantine will continue to be enforced for those UK residents travelling back from red listed countries.
Why is the Government so cautious if we are at the end of its road map? Health Secretary Sajid Javid testing positive for Covid-19, and the Prime Minister and Chancellor forced into quarantine as close contacts, is evidence enough of the virus’s ongoing presence and ability to disrupt. Boris Johnson will spend “freedom day” self-isolating, amid warnings from scientists that cases numbers could still soar higher.
Mr Javid previously told MPs the daily Covid-19 case rate could rise to 100,000 per day, but that the Government is confident that the vaccination programme has “severely weakened” the link between cases, hospital admissions and deaths, meaning the NHS will not be overwhelmed.