Article published on theguardian.com
Boris Johnson says easing of restrictions will be welcome relief for businesses that have been closed
People should enjoy new freedoms but remain wary of the risks, Boris Johnson has said, as beer gardens, alfresco restaurants, shops and salons prepared to reopen across England on Monday for the first time in almost four months.
The prime minister hailed the reopening – a major and “irreversible” step in the roadmap of easing restrictions – as “a chance to get back to doing some of the things we love and have missed”.
It came as just seven coronavirus deaths were reported in the UK within 28 days of a positive test, the lowest number since mid-September. There were also 1,730 people who tested positive, while 221 were admitted to hospital, where there are 2,862 Covid patients overall. The number of vaccine doses distributed is nearing 40m, including more than 7m second doses. More than 400,000 second doses were given in the UK for the fourth consecutive day on Saturday, along with 111,109 first doses.
From Monday, English hospitality venues will only be allowed to serve customers outdoors, meaning many with no garden space cannot reopen until the next stage in England’s roadmap on 17 May.
Many pub gardens and restaurants with terraces in cities have been booked up for weeks, though Johnson said people must continue to behave responsibly and remember the importance of remaining outside while socialising.
The Centre for Economics and Business Research has estimated a consumer spend of £314m from hospitality over the coming week. The British Beer and Pub Association has estimated that 60% of pubs and restaurants may need to remain closed, however, as many do not have outdoor space.
Johnson had hoped to visit a beer garden himself but No 10 said last week that visit would be cancelled, with the UK in a period of national mourning for the Duke of Edinburgh until his funeral on Saturday.
Johnson said the relaxation of restrictions, after what the government hopes will be the last time harsh measures will need to be imposed, would be welcome relief for businesses.
“Today is a major step forward in our roadmap to freedom as venues such as shops, hairdressers, nail salons, outdoor attractions, and pubs and restaurants open once again,” he said. “I’m sure it will be a huge relief for those business owners who have been closed for so long, and for everyone else it’s a chance to get back to doing some of the things we love and have missed.”
Johnson stressed the need for “fresh air” as a key Covid-19 prevention measure alongside the familiar messages of hand-washing, social distancing and mask-wearing. “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,” he said.
The chairman of the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) said the easing would almost certainly have an effect on infection rates but that he hoped the vaccine programme would prevent a major rise in deaths.
Prof Peter Horby told Times Radio: “The modelling, which is now pretty good, does show that we can expect some kind of rebound. It’s not clear exactly when or how big it will be but there is, I think, inevitably going to be a bit of a rebound in the number of cases when things are relaxed.
“Hopefully it won’t translate too much into hospitalisations and deaths because of the vaccine programme, but there will be some of that. Now the extent of it really depends on how well we comply with the ongoing restrictions, so we really have to take this step by step. I think we can be joyful and enjoy the freedoms, but we’ve still got to realise there’s still a large number of people who’ve not been infected or vaccinated and so they will be at risk.”