LONDON – Perhaps nothing is as essential to British culture as a pub.
Beer-hungry Britons have been deprived of their regular haunts since the country’s brutal closure in March, as the coronavirus pandemic spread.
Dotted around almost every corner, pubs are part of the fabric of British life – a place to meet, chat and soak up. But for the past few months, the British have been forced to drink at home.
That will change on Saturday, when pubs in England are officially allowed to reopen – a date already dubbed “Independence Day” by many revelers and called in the tabloids “Super Saturday”.
Pubs in Scotland and Wales are slated to reopen later this month, while they reopened in Northern Ireland on Friday.
The bar stools will be dusted, the counters wiped with disinfectant and the fireplaces will be turned back on, as the pubs prepare to open their doors – with many desiccated pubgers delighted.
“We want to be human again,” bar owner Ian Snowball told NBC News.
“There is real excitement,” he said. “They want to drop their hair. “
Snowball, the owner of the Showtime bar in the northern English city of Huddersfield, wastes no time and reopens early Saturday morning.
His establishment can normally hold around 500 people, but due to restrictions, with people staying at least 3 feet from each other, he expects to accommodate around 175 customers.
Let our news respond to your inbox. The news and stories that matter, delivered in the morning on weekdays.
The drinkers of his family establishment, opened in 2018, will have to register their names and addresses at the reception at the entrance – to be followed and traced if the virus is detected later – and have their temperature taken before entering the main bar. .
They will then be directed to a numbered table with floor markings creating clear one-way paths. Although the toilets are open, cameras will be used throughout the building to ensure that crowds do not accumulate.
Snowball admits the atmosphere may seem “moderate” compared to life before the virus, but says he expects people to be happy to leave.
“There is going to be a massive demand,” he predicts cheerfully, adding that local police had already promised to provide additional patrols in the area over the weekend, if the gaiety spilled over into anti-social behavior.
Police across England have warned revelers to drink reasonably and to be aware of the social distancing restrictions still in place. Authorities are keen to avoid a repeat of the scenes last month when thousands of people disregarded safety instructions and flocked to the English coast in hot weather.
The National Health Service of Great Britain, which still feels the pressure of the coronavirus, fears that heavy drinkers will extend the services.
“It would be heartbreaking to see the emergency services overwhelmed on the first evening after the lockdown by people who got too drunk or fought,” said Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine.
According to the British Beer and Pub Association, a commercial body, about 80% of the 37,500 pubs in England are likely to reopen.
But despite being revered in British society, pubs have shrunk in recent years, closing as rents go up, discount supermarkets, and health-conscious young generations turn away from alcohol .
But the pandemic has been fatal for many pubs, with owners across the country forced to pour and throw at least 70 million pints of beer since the foreclosure began, the British Beer and Pub Association estimates.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who himself was hospitalized for the coronavirus in April, urged the country not to do too much this weekend when the lock is released.
Meanwhile, as a sign of support, Prince William visited his local Norfolk pub on Friday near the Royal Sandringham Estate to sip cider and chat with bar staff about their experiences during the pandemic.
Hairdressers, restaurants and museums will also reopen on Saturday as the hard-hit British economy begins to emerge from the public health crisis, which has killed nearly 44,000 people, according to official figures.
The UK has one of the highest death rates of COVID-19 in the world.
As Leicester, a city in the middle of England, saw its lock restrictions re-imposed after a local push this week, proof that the deadly virus is still hiding.
Not all pubs want to soak their feet this weekend.
The Red Lion and Sun, a North London pub, has decided to keep its doors closed to customers but will serve take-out drinks.
“No one wants to open more pubs than I do, but we have to do it safely for you, our customers, and our staff,” wrote owner Heath Ball on Instagram. “We won’t be back on July 4 … people over the pounds. “
Lawrence Ambrose, 51, enjoys a pint of Guinness in his local London pub. But said he expects Saturday to be “a fool of madness” with large drunken crowds and busy public transportation – and that he still fears the virus.
“I’m not going to rush on Saturday, it’s going to be a scandal,” he told NBC News.