And the beginning of the end of Britain’s lockdown — one of the longest and most stringent in the world — came with a pint at a pub.
Just past the stroke of midnight on Monday, a few select establishments in England served their first drinks since being forced to close in January, and more than a year after the first of three national lockdowns was imposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Later, thousands of gyms, salons and retail stores opened their doors for the first time in months, bringing a frisson of life to streets long frozen in a state of suspended animation.
Thousands more pubs resumed business at noon. Friends reunited, families shared a meal at an outdoor cafe together for the first time in months, and as Britons basked in the late afternoon sun, the morning chill seemed to fade, replaced by a collective smile and sigh of relief.
With the return of one of Britain’s most cherished institutions — even if pubs were limited to outdoor service — the country took its first major step in a phased reopening that is scheduled to culminate on June 21, when the government has said that it hopes to lift almost all restrictions in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are following separate but similar timetables, under which some restrictions that eased on Monday in England will remain in place a while longer.
“It’s like being out of prison,” said Kate Asani. She and two friends, Maria Ramsakova and Dezlin Vergotine, sat at a small table in the back garden of the Carlton Tavern in the Kilburn area of London, basking in each other’s company as much as the sunshine.
After months of isolation, she wasn’t quite sure she remembered how to be with others. “I was so nervous on the train here,” she said. “What do I wear? What do I say? It’s been so long.”