Revellers were given the long-awaited green light to party last night as nightclubs across the country threw open their doors for the first time in 16 months to celebrate the arrival of ‘Freedom Day’.
In a night described by some as ‘feeling like New Year’, eager revellers across England piled onto dance floors for the first time since March last year – crucially without being required to provide Covid passports or negative test results.
Face masks are also no longer legally required, and with social distancing rules shelved, there are no limits on people attending.
Venues including Fabric, E1, Ministry of Sound and Egg nightclubs in London, Pryzm in Bristol, Powerhouse Night Club in Newcastle and Moon Acre in Dorset re-opened on the stroke of midnight – the very second that most legal restrictions on social contact were removed.
Revellers said the opening night ‘felt like New Year’. Fundraiser Chloe Waite, 37, who was first in the queue outside Egg nightclub in London said: ‘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.’
Gabriel Wildsmith, 26, a video producer from London, who joined Ms Waite at the front of the line said he had missed ‘meeting random people’ and making friends.
Speaking ahead of his Freedom Day night, he said: I’ve been waiting for this for so long … basically since we locked down.
‘I love going to clubs and I love meeting random people. You make great friends and you couldn’t do that until tonight.’
Meanwhile, Tristan Moffat, operations director of London’s The Piano Works said it was ‘the moment we’ve been waiting for, that our customers have been waiting for,’ as his venue prepared to open.
The business had been keen to open its doors again after losing about £40,000 a month during the pandemic, he said.
Its ‘Freedom Day’ bash started on Sunday with a countdown to midnight when staff members cut a ribbon to the dance floor and served customers free prosecco.
But while entertainment businesses and ravers are now jubilant, many others are deeply worried about the British government’s decision to go ahead with fully reopening the economy and no longer mandating masks at a time when Covid-19 cases are on a rapid upswing.
In a study carried out by YouGov, which questioned 3,659 adults between July 5 and July 15, 73 per cent of English people who used to go to nightclubs in pre-pandemic times said that they would not currently feel comfortable returning after the restrictions lifted.
The grand re-opening has come as Covid cases across the UK soared by 52 per cent week-on-week after yesterday recording 48,161 new cases – up from the 31,772 cases recorded last Sunday – with a further 25 deaths..
However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the move in a video message on Sunday during which he said: ‘If we don’t do it now, we have to ask ourselves, when will we ever do it. So this is the right moment.
‘But we’ve got to do it cautiously. We’ve got to remember that this virus is sadly still out there. Cases are rising, we can see the extreme contagiousness of the Delta variant.
‘But we have this immense consolation and satisfaction that there is no doubt at all that the vaccine programme – the massive vaccination programme – has very severely weakened the link between infection and hospitalisation, and between infection and serious illness and death.
‘So please, please, please be cautious and go forward tomorrow into the next step with all the right prudence and respect for other people and the risks that the disease continues to present.’
Partygoers queuing for the Viaduct Bar in Leeds after the final legal coronavirus restrictions were lifted in England at midnight
Huge queues of revellers waited to enter Grey’s nightclub on Grey Street in Newcastle as it threw open its doors on the stroke of midnight
Pictured: People queued up for the Egg nightclub in London after the final legal coronavirus restrictions were lifted in England at midnight
Thousands of eager revellers across England have piled onto dance floors for the first time since March last year. Pictured: Partygoers in Newcastle
The grand re-opening has come as Covid cases across the UK soared by 52 per cent week-on-week. Pictured: Revellers get back on the dancefloor at Powerhouse nightclub in Newcastle
In Brighton clubbers queued around the corner to get into Pryzm nightclub as it opened at 00.01 this morning – for the first time in 16 months
Nightclubs and revellers alike took to social media on Sunday to share their enthusiasm at a return to ‘normality’ on the stroke of midnight.
The Piano Works in Farringdon shared a post that read: ‘We can’t wait to see you all storm the floor and let loose for the first time in 16 months. It’s been a long wait but the day is finally here. Let’s get ready to dance the night away!’
The Lions Club, Manchester, wrote: ‘00.01 TONIGHT. From one minute past midnight – it’ll go back to as close to The Liars Club as you knew it – ordering at the bar, dance floor is BACK.
‘Please consider each other – masks are at guests discretion and things will be different! STAY SAFE – see you later.’
In its own promotion, Pryzm in Bristol said: ‘Join us at 11.59pm on Sunday 18th July as we open the doors at midnight and throw our first proper party in 16 months!’
And partygoers were not holding back either as one wrote: ‘5 hour train ride from Edinburgh to London so I can finally bloody dance in a club full of people from midnight tonight. Give it to me.’
Another added: ‘Badly excited to get drunk tonight and be there in a club at midnight when the restrictions get lifted and the dance floor can open!!!!’
And a third said: ‘Nightclubs opening at midnight tonight is the best thing everrrrrrrrr.’
But, contrastingly, in a study carried out by YouGov, 73 per cent of English people who used to go to nightclubs in pre-pandemic times said that they would not currently feel comfortable returning after the restrictions lifted.
The survey, which questioned 3,659 adults between July 5 and July 15, also found that 59 per cent of respondents would also not yet be happy in returning to other large indoor events such as concerts or performances.
And an additional poll on Friday, which surveyed 4,284 British adults, showed that 60 per cent were feeling increasingly nervous about the restrictions lifting.
Hundreds of people packed into Astoria Nightclub in Portsmouth, Hampshire, last night after it opened its doors at 12.01am today
Long queues formed outside Astoria Nightclub in Portsmouth, Hampshire, at 12.01am today for the first time in 16 months
Pictured: Huge queues of young revellers waiting to enter Grey’s nightclub on Grey Street in Newcastle opening at the stroke of midnight
Students and revellers shouted ‘Happy Freedom Day’ as they posed for pictures and embraced friends queuing to get into Players Nightclub on Broad Street in Birmingham
Pictured: Police van outside the Egg nightclub in London as officers spoke to security after the final legal coronavirus restrictions were lifted in England at midnight
Nightclubs and revellers alike took to social media on Sunday to share their enthusiasm at a return to ‘normality’ on the stroke of midnight
Meanwhile, officials have repeatedly expressed confidence that the UK’s vaccine rollout — with just over half of the total population having received two doses — will keep the threat to public health at bay.
But leading international scientists on Friday described England’s ‘Freedom Day’ as a threat to the whole world, and 1,200 scientists backed a letter to British medical journal The Lancet that criticized the government’s decision.
‘I can’t think of any realistic good scenario to come out of this strategy, I’m afraid,’ said Julian Tang, a clinical virologist at the University of Leicester. ‘I think it’s really a degree of how bad it’s going to be.’
Even Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, warned that ‘we could get into trouble again surprisingly fast.’
Mr Johnson himself played down talk of freedom and stressed that life would not instantly revert to how it was pre-pandemic.
It comes as the Prime Minister and Treasury chief Rishi Sunak are both self-isolating for 10 days after contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday.
Vaccines are not foolproof, Tang explained, especially not against potential new ‘super variants’ that could surface after people are allowed to mix without precautions over the summer. Add a flu resurgence in the colder months and that spells ‘a winter of very serious proportions,’ he said.
Nightclubs across the country have thrown open their doors to celebrate the arrival of Freedom Day. Pictured: Members of staff at The Piano Works club in Farringdon, London, preparing ahead of its re-opening as part of the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions
Cleaning operations were in full swing at the Powerhouse nightclub in Newcastle with foggers and vaccuums on the dancefloor ahead of full reopening at midnight
Thousands of eager revellers across England have piled onto dance floors for the first time since March last year without being required to provide Covid passports or negative test results. Pictured: Staff at The Piano Works club in Farringdon, London, preparing for its reopening
It’s ‘the moment we’ve been waiting for, that our customers have been waiting for,’ said Tristan Moffat, operations director of London music venue The Piano Works, ahead of the deadline (staff at the venue)
Nightclubs in particular are potent spreading grounds, Tang said, because many in their core customer base — people ages 18 to 25 — became eligible for a first vaccine dose though the National Health Service last month and haven’t yet been offered the second shots needed to boost immunity.
‘That population is not fully vaccinated. They’re not masking. They’re in very close contact, heavily breathing, shouting very loudly to the music, dancing with different people,’ he said. ‘That’s the perfect mixing vessel for the virus to spread and to even generate new variants.’
Mr Johnson has urged nightclubs and other venues with big crowds to use Covid-19 status certification ‘as a matter of social responsibility,’ and only to admit patrons who can show they are double-jabbed, have a negative test result or have recovered from the disease.
There is no legal requirement for them to do so, however.
In a flash poll of 250 late night bars and clubs by the Night Time Industries Association last week, 83% said they won’t be asking people about their Covid-19 status, according to Michael Kill, the trade body’s chief executive. Many owners see the passes as a huge turn-off for customers and accuse the government of ‘passing the buck’ to businesses.
‘We’ve heard people will boycott businesses that adopt this,’ Kill said. ‘The last thing we want after months of closure is to be again hindered in terms of capacity to trade. Either mandate it or don’t mandate it. This is putting an inordinate amount of pressure on us.’
Russell Quelch, operations director of REKOM UK, the U.K.’s largest operator of late-night bars and clubs, called the government stance on Covid-19 passes ‘unworkable’ and unfair.
Johnson’s decision to scrap the legal requirement for face coverings in indoor public spaces has also split opinion and sowed confusion.
Days after the prime minister said masks would still be ‘expected and recommended’ in crowded indoor places but not compulsory, London Mayor Sadiq Khan contradicted the message, saying that passengers on the capital’s subways and buses must continue to wear them.
Some retailers, like bookstore chain Waterstones, said they would encourage customers to keep their masks on. But many believe that, just like COVID-19 status passes, implementing such policies will be tricky without the backing of the law.
The end of restrictions in England on Monday will be a critical moment in Britain’s handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 128,000 people nationwide, the highest death toll in Western Europe. Other parts of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are taking more cautious steps out of lockdown.
Salsa instructor Esther Alvero is one of the many who say they are excited but fearful. A co-founder of Cubaneando, a company that ran salsa club nights, classes and staged performances for gala events before the pandemic, Alvero says she has had next to no income in the past year.
Her savings have all gone, and her dancers have had to survive by taking part-time jobs as Amazon delivery drivers or cleaners.
‘To be honest, we can’t wait to get back to it. But in certain ways it’s scary, from nothing to all at the same time,’ Alvero said.
‘I’m scared but we have to survive,’ she added. ‘We have no option because the economic consequences could be worse than Covid itself.’
Social distancing, working from home, masks in shops and on public transport: What WILL and what WON’T change as Freedom Day arrives
People in England will today emerge from lockdown with the government’s final major easing of restrictions – but so called ‘Freedom Day’ has come come with a note of caution.
Just over four months after setting off on the government’s roadmap, last week Boris Johnson confirmed that the country could finally make its much-awaited last step towards freedom on Monday, July 19.
‘We think now is the right moment to proceed’ he said in press conference statement, before warning: ‘It is absolutely vital that we proceed now with caution.’
For the much-touted end to face masks and scrapping of social distancing has given way under reports of over 50,000 new Covid cases a day – a result of the rapidly spreading Delta variant – and rising hospitalisations.
While the law may be changing, as the Mail will highlight here, the government, other public bodies and businesses have started issuing strong guidance for people who are travelling, shopping or out socialising.
The Prime Minister’s tone has also changed, and he no longer says ‘cautious, but irreversible’ when referring to unlocking the country, with fears of a return of restrictions in the autumn.
Mr Johnson will not even be out celebrating ‘Freedom Day’ or making his previously planned Churchillian speech – he is having to isolate after being pinged due to his contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who recently tested positive for Covid.
The revelation about Mr Johnson being collared by Test and Trace has sent alarm bells ringing over a ‘pingdemic’ at the heart of government and beyond – a huge dampener to what was meant to be a celebratory end of a hard slog.
Here, the Mail looks at the rules that are changing today and what guidance has been issued to replace it in some areas:
People in England will today emerge from lockdown with the government’s final major easing of restrictions – but so called ‘Freedom Day’ has come come with a note of caution
But Boris Johnson will not be out celebrating ‘Freedom Day’ or making his previously planned Churchillian speech – he is having to isolate after being pinged due to his contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who recently tested positive for Covid
Legal rules mandating the wearing of face masks will be axed.
However, despite ministers previously saying they want to ditch coverings as soon as they are voluntary, guidance will state that they are ‘expected and recommended’ in crowded spaces.
Guidance published last night said: ‘Government expects and recommends that people wear face coverings in crowded areas such as public transport.’
London‘s Mayor Sadiq Khan has broken rank to ordered they be kept compulsory on the Tube, buses and taxis. He was backed by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps who said he had ‘expected’ operators to put in place ‘conditions of carriage’ to ensure that passengers were safe on public transport.
Regional leaders such as Manchester mayor Andy Burnham have also said the restrictions would stay on transport in his city.
Private companies will be allowed to make them a requirement for entry, as Ryanair has already announced on its flights.
An ONS survey this week found that nearly two thirds of adults will continue to wear masks in shops and on public transport.
Passengers on the London underground and several other train lines Will still have to wear masks unless exempt – after bosses defied the government’s change to the law by putting in place their own guidance
GOING TO PUBS
It will no longer be a legal requirement to scan a QR code on entry to a venue as part of the test and trace system. However, venues will be allowed to make use of the codes a requirement for entry if they choose.
It will also no longer be a legal requirement for pubs to require customers to order drinks at their tables.
However, some pub chains may continue this – meaning that people will still not be able to go to the bar if an individual pub bans it.
SOCIAL DISTANCING RULES
The one-metre rule will be scrapped in law – meaning fewer Perspex screens in offices.
It also means hospitality businesses like pubs and restaurants won’t have to limit customers to ensure they are spaced apart.
But people are now being strongly advised to ‘minimise the number, proximity and duration of social contacts’.
Chris Whitty even suggested that people should avoid ‘unnecessary meetings’ – and said everyone should continue to abide by ‘hands, face, space’.
However, the one-metre rule will continue to be enforced at borders, such as in airports, amid concern over people coming into the country with variants.
Social distancing rules in pubs and restaurants will be scrapped from today. The change will mean many businesses that were too small to open before will finally be able to open their doors (stock photo)
There had been hopes that the requirement for the double-jabbed to self-isolate for up to 10 days when they are ‘pinged’ for coming in contact with a positive case would be dropped from July 19.
However, that date was pushed back to August 16 by Health Secretary Sajid Javid amid concerns about fueling rising infection numbers.
The rules on self-isolation for those who have not had two doses are staying in place for the time being.
However, officials are working on ways of making the NHS app less sensitive to avoid millions of people being doomed to house arrest.
And ministers have said work is ongoing on a system of daily testing that could potentially replace the self-isolation regime.
The governments ‘work from home’ message will be scrapped, but replaced with advice that any return to offices should be ‘gradual’ over the summer while cases are high
WORKING FROM HOME
The Government’s ‘work from home’ message will end and employers will be able to start to plan a return to workplaces, some having been empty since last March.
But the decision of course is still be up to individual employers.
Some may decide to continue with working from home for the foreseeable future, although city centre businesses such as cafes and retail have been hugely affected by the lack of office workers.
Government advice will also be that any return to offices should be ‘gradual’ over the summer while cases are high.
The guidance states: ‘Whilst government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can, government would expect and recommend a gradual return over the summer.’
Although guidance to employers will be slimmed down, it will still encourage them to ensure rooms are properly ventilated to minimise risk.
CAP ON CARE HOME VISITS
The current restriction that people can only be seen by five named visitors will be scrapped.
But strict infection-control measures – such as the wearing of PPE and regular cleaning – will continue, with more detail to be announced later.
Restrictions on festivals and other large outdoor events will also end, meaning Reading and Leeds and the Isle of Wight festival (pictured, 2017) will be allowed to go ahead later this year
Covid status certification – so-called vaccine passports – will not be legally required within England.
It is being left up to individual venues to decide themselves whether to demand Covid status certification through the NHS App as a condition of entry.
The government is ‘encouraging’ the use of Covid certification for large events.
Owners of busy indoor venues such as nightclubs and busy city-centre bars have been told to consider bringing in the passports.
The government will ‘encourage’ businesses and large events to use the NHS Covid Pass in ‘high risk settings’ – that is, where people are likely to be in ‘close proximity to others outside their household’.
Few details have been given, but the guidance could cover theatres, cinemas, indoor concerts and exhibitions. The government many consider mandating certification in certain venues at a later date.
A new system to allow double-jabbed people to avoid quarantine after returning from amber-list countries will come into force from July 19 – with one big exception.
A government U-turn announced on Friday night now means that even vaccinated Brits returning from France will have to quarantine – sparking fury as families were forced to cancel trips to France at the last-minute.
From today, double-jabbed people can avoid quarantine after returning from amber-list countries. However, travellers from France, where there is a large number of Beta variant cases, will not be part of the rule relaxation
RULE OF SIX
There will be no legal limits on social contact, meaning groups will not have to limit themselves to six people or two households if they are mixing indoors.
Groups outdoors can be as large as people want them to be.
WEDDING AND FUNERAL CAP
The limits on attendance at weddings, funerals and other major life events are being scrapped.
ART AND SPORT VENUE LIMITS
There will be no more restrictions on the size of an audience at a concert or a show, or a crowd at a sports fixture, which means theatres and stadiums can run at full capacity.
All other legal requirements for venues to close will be lifted, allowing night-time industries – including nightclubs – to reopen for the first time since the pandemic began.
No restrictions on singing, or even guidance to restrict it. It means singing by church choirs can continue – as can karaoke nights.