People queued up outside retailers across England on Monday to release their pent-up shopping fever and some grabbed a midnight pint or even an early haircut as England’s shops, pubs, gyms and hairdressers reopened after three months of lockdown.
After imposing the most onerous restrictions in Britain’s peacetime history, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the reopening was a “major step” towards freedom but urged people to behave responsibly as the coronavirus was still a threat.
As the sun rose, dozens of people queued up outside Primark in English cities such as Birmingham and outside JD Sports on Oxford Street in London, undeterred by the unseasonably cold weather.
Some folk lined up after midnight to raise a pint with fellow revelers at the Kentish Belle in Bexleyheath, south London, and at the Oak Inn in Coventry, central England.
“I’m so excited to see my clients: to see how they are and give them that feeling that they get from having had their hair done,” Maggie Grieve, who manages Beaucatcher hairdressers in north London, told Reuters.
“Today is going to feel like every hairdresser’s birthday. The well-wishers have already come in: emails, texts, WhatsApps, even neighbors in the street wishing luck and joy. It feels great. Now can’t wait to get to the pub,” Grieve said.
Getting people spending again is crucial for Britain’s recovery after official data showed that 2020 was the worst year for its economy in more than three centuries with a 9.8% decline in gross domestic product.
Hundreds of thousands of businesses have been closed since early January when England entered a third lockdown to stem surging infections driven by the “Kent” variant of the virus.
A vaccination campaign that has delivered a first shot to well over half of adults and lockdown measures have cut deaths by more than 95% and cases by over 90% from the January peak.
Industry lobby group, the British Retail Consortium, estimates UK stores have lost 27 billion pounds ($37 billion) in sales over three lockdowns, while 67,000 retail jobs were shed in 2020 alone.
Some 17,532 chain store outlets vanished from high streets, shopping centers and retail parks across the UK last year, according to data compiled by researcher the Local Data Company for accountancy firm PwC.
“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 said in a statement on Sunday.
“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 program.”
With more than 127,000 fatalities, the United Kingdom has the fifth highest death toll in the world from COVID-19.
Non-essential stores, such as home and fashion chains, will reopen in Wales as well as England on Monday, although those in Scotland need to wait until April 26.
Pubs and restaurants will only be able to serve outdoors from Monday, although early rules requiring meals to be served with drinks and curfews have been scrapped. Indoor service will not be allowed until May 17 at the earliest.