The curbs were lifted at midnight (11 p.m. GMT) on Sunday as laws requiring face masks and working from home were removed. The lifting of the rules means nightclubs were also able to reopen for the first time since the UK was shut down in March of last year. Other covered venues such as theaters and cinemas will also be able to operate at full capacity.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is in isolation after Health Minister Sajid Javid tested positive for COVID-19, has urged people to remain cautious. His government is hoping the UK rollout of coronavirus vaccines will help protect the country even as infections reach levels last seen in January.
“If we don’t do it now, we have to ask ourselves, when will we ever do it? Johnson said in a video message filmed on Sunday.
“Now is the right time, but we have to do it with caution. We must remember that this virus is unfortunately still there. “
If vaccines continue to prove effective in reducing serious illness and death, even with infections at record levels, Johnson’s decision could inform approaches from other highly vaccinated countries regarding lifting restrictions on coronaviruses.
But the strategy comes with risks – including that a variant that can withstand vaccines could emerge, or that the workload could overwhelm the health system and cripple the country.
Leading international scientists on Friday described what some have called England’s ‘Freedom Day’ as a threat to the whole world, and 1,200 scientists backed a letter to prominent British medical journal The Lancet , criticizing the decision of the Conservative government.
“I can’t think of any good realistic scenario to get out of this strategy, I’m afraid,” Julian Tang, clinical virologist at the University of Leicester, told the Associated Press news agency. “I think that’s really a measure of the gravity of the situation. “
Thousands of clubbers were ready to dance the night away as the rules were lifted and nightclubs, closed since March 2020, reopen.
“I haven’t been allowed to dance for what feels like an eternity,” Georgia Pike, 31, told Oval Space in Hackney. “I want to dance, I want to hear live music, I want the atmosphere of a concert, to be surrounded by other people. “
But under the excitement, there was also concern about the wave of new cases.
The number of daily cases per million in the UK is currently among the highest in the world, according to Our World in Data.
“I’m so excited – but it’s mixed with the feeling of impending doom,” said Gary Cartmill, 26.
Nearly 129,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the UK, the seventh highest death toll in the world. On Sunday, it reported 48,161 new cases and 25 deaths.
About 87 percent of the UK adult population has received one dose of the vaccine and over 68 percent the two doses needed to provide the best protection against serious illness and death.
Johnson is setting COVID-19 restrictions for England, with decentralized administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland mostly taking a more cautious approach.
The government’s own chief medical adviser has warned that the crisis could quickly return if the number of cases increases. There are currently just under 4,000 people hospitalized with the coronavirus.
One concern, says Tang, is about the “super variations” that could emerge when people are allowed to mix recklessly over the summer in the UK. Add a resurgence of the flu as the weather gets colder and that means “a winter of very serious proportions,” he said.