People in England were quick to seize upon greater freedoms after the national lockdown ended and was replaced by a tiered system of restrictions.
Some of the most hardcore fitness fanatics even hit the weights for a midnight workout as one London gym owner threw open his doors at the stroke of 12.
All non-essential shops are allowed to open from today, paving the way for a festive spending spree that will likely drive people back to the nation’s ailing high streets.
A fire sale at Debenhams is expected to fuel the shopping bonanza as bargain-hunters are lured by price cuts of up to 70 per cent ahead of the company’s impending liquidation following the collapse of rescue talks.
A precursor to today’s likely stampede for generous discounts – as it reopens its soon-to-be axed 124 stores – was seen last night when more than a million people swamped the department store’s website.
The burst of activity as England flings off the blanket restrictions is being dubbed ‘Wild Wednesday’ – but will still see the overwhelming majority of the public living under draconian laws.
Boris Johnson last night overcame the largest Tory rebellion of his premiership for his new tier system to clear the Commons by 291 to 78, with abstaining Labour MPs getting the vote across the line.
It heralds a tack back to the Government’s previous strategy of carving the country into three ‘alert levels’ – albeit this time with harsher measures and with 99 per cent of the country facing the top two tiers.
Pubs have had their curfew extended to 11pm but are grappling with the fresh regulations. In Tier 2, they can only serve alcohol with a ‘substantial meal’ and in Tier 3 they are limited to just takeaways.
But despite the presence of the pandemic still looming large over everyday life, many Britons were jubilant at the showering of freedoms that came into effect today.
Some of the most hardcore fitness fanatics even hit the weights for a midnight workout as one London gym owner, Andreas Michli, (pictured), who was previously fined for breaching lockdown, threw open his doors on the stroke of 12
Hundreds of thousands of shoppers have swamped the Debenhams website to snap up generous discounts as the department store tries to clear its stock before closing for good
Boris Johnson last night overcame the largest Tory rebellion of his premiership for his new tier system to clear the Commons by 291 to 78, with abstaining Labour MPs getting the vote across the line
PM suffers biggest revolt of his premiership – but wins tiers vote
Boris Johnson got his brutal post-lockdown tiers approved by the Commons last night thanks to Sir Keir Starmer’s tacit support after suffering the biggest Tory revolt of this Parliament as more than 50 Tories defied the whip.
The new three-tier system was signed off by a margin of 291 to 78 and came into force at midnight after Labour opted to abstain, despite complaining the regime was not tough enough and there was not enough support for hospitality firms which have been crippled by government shutdowns.
While the headline 213 majority was healthy, the rebellion of 55 Tories – including Julian Lewis, who is suspended – made the uprising the biggest of this Parliament yet, after 44 previously went against the pubs curfew.
Another 17 appear to have abstained, though it is not clear how many were given permission to stay away. Sir Keir also suffered his own revolt, with 15 defying the whip, alongside Jeremy Corbyn and eight DUP politicians.
Though the Labour move guaranteed No10 victory, it left Mr Johnson exposed to the anger of his own benches. Had all the opposition parties voted against the Government, the PM would have easily been defeated.
The rebellion may have permanently dashed the possibility of using blanket shutdowns to suppress the virus in the future, and is likely to have set off alarm bells in No10 as the premier’s authority continues to wane.
As England woke up to eased restrictions of varying degree:
- Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove has said two scotch eggs would be ‘a starter’, 24 hours after Environment Secretary George Eustice said one is a substantial meal for the purposes of buying alcohol in pubs in Tier 2. But Mr Gove added to the confusion by saying later it could also count as a main meal;
- Sir Keir Starmer was accused of ‘playing politics’ in the middle of the pandemic after he ordered his MPs to sit out the crucial vote tonight on the rules that will replace lockdown;
- Stratford-on-Avon District Council mounted a legal challenge against being placed into Tier 3;
- Mr Gove has denied that Britons will need ‘immunity certificates’ to go to the pub – despite a fellow minister raising the prospect yesterday;
- Mr Gove pointed to Wales as an example of how lockdown should not be done, after it announced pubs will be forced to close at 6pm and banned from selling alcohol drinks from Friday as the country faces new curbs just weeks after the ‘firebreak’ ended;
- The Government announced a further 603 Covid deaths on Tuesday, bringing the UK total to 59,051.
Gym boss Andreas Michli, 34, was mobbed by supporters tonight as he threw his doors open on the stroke of midnight.
The owner was fined £67,000 and taken to court last month by Haringey Council after a stand-off with more than 30 police officers over three days at the Zone Gym in Wood Green, North London.
But last night he was back in business and welcomed around 60 people through his doors – and boasted the prime minister had been swayed by his protest.
As crowds queued up to get back on the treadmills, Mr Michli told MailOnline: ‘There’s no doubt in my mind we succeeded in changing the Prime Minister’s mind about allowing gyms to open.
‘He saw what was going on and he listened. But the war goes on and now it’s not just about gyms anymore. I feel like I’m fighting on behalf of businesses of all kind.
‘So many business owners are suffering, so it’s great to see the buzz here tonight and the excitement now that we are opening up again.’
Among those first in the door was personal trainer Sophia Sammee, 35, from Friern Barnet, North London who said: ‘You can see the happiness in people’s faces here tonight.
‘Everyone is buzzing that lockdown is over.’ This gym has been my home and I really wanted to be here on the stroke of midnight. Andreas was brave to stay open and I was proud to support him.’
Paralegal Dennis Adjei-Sarpong, 26, said: ‘There are so many smiles here tonight now that this place is back open. People just want to get lost in their work-outs and their fitness again. I myself can’t wait to hit the weights. It’s a great moment.’
Zone Gym in Wood Green in North London welcomed around 60 people through his doors at the stroke of midnight
Mr Michli told MailOnline: ‘There’s no doubt in my mind we succeeded in changing the Prime Minister’s mind about allowing gyms to open’
Just 18 local authorities see Covid cases rise
Just eighteen authorities in England have seen a rise in Covid-19 cases over the most recent week, according to official figures that call into question whether 99 per cent of the country needs to be in the toughest two tiers of lockdown.
Only eight areas – Ashford, Dover, Folkestone and Hythe, Maidstone, Medway, Tonbridge and Malling, Boston in Lincolnshire and South Ribble in Lancashire – will be subject to Tier Three restrictions, which will see all pubs, bars and restaurants forced to shut.
The other areas that have seen a spike in infections – Mendip, Torridge, Surrey Heath, Woking, Basildon, Harlow, Ipswich, North Norfolk, Peterborough and Waltham Forest – will fall under the second harshest bracket. Residents living in Tier Two will be banned from mixing indoors with other households.
It means the other 297 lower-tier authorities in England – home to around 53million people – saw a fall in coronavirus cases in the seven-day spell ending November 25, the most recent week of data.
Despite Public Health England data showing Covid outbreaks are shrinking across the rest of the country, 55million people will find themselves living in either Tier Two or Tier Three when the national lockdown ends tomorrow.
Mr Michli clocked up a fortune in fixed penalty notices only to rip them up on his Instagram channel and invite members back to his gym -only for magistrates to close him down.
Despite breaking the law during lockdown he says he had been swamped with messages of support from well-wishers across the country.
‘I’m not paying the fine and if Haringey Council want the money then they will have to take me to court, because I’m not handing over a penny. I feel like the public have swayed behind me and it’s an incredible feeling.
‘We were expecting a big crowd at twelve because we’ve had so many people saying on social media they wanted to be here for when the doors open.
‘We’ve had a lot of love and support from across the country backing us. Because we’re a 24-hour gym, it made sense to open on the stroke of midnight.’
Mr Michli has 1,200 members but social distancing rules mean he will be limited to 85 members in his gym at any one time.
‘We will be following the government guidelines relating to how many people can be on the premises at any one time. And we will be enforcing social distancing. Still it’s a big step back to normal life.’
Wild Wednesday is also expected to see a blitz of high street stores as people look to snap up gifts weeks out from Christmas.
It will be fuelled by a bargain bonanza from Debenhams which has slashed prices on handbags, shoes, boots, watches and dresses.
The chain has become the latest high street casualty and will be liquidated in the New Year after rescue talks with JD Sport fell through, drawing a line under 242 years of trading and jeopardising 12,000 jobs.
Late Tuesday night there was a 20-minute wait ‘due to exceptional demand’ with over 300,000 trying to get on to the website at one point, and the total number of shoppers topping one million.
A bruising year for the retail sector amid the pandemic climaxed this week when both Debenhams and Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia group collapsed.
Arcadia, which owns Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins and Burton, tipped into administration, putting 13,000 jobs at risk.