English shops and pub gardens reopen in 'major step' to freedom


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© Reuters. COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease, Manchester

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LONDON (Reuters) – England’s shops, hairdressers, gyms and pub gardens will reopen on Monday in what Prime Minister Boris Johnson said was a “major step” towards freedom from the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.

Sunday’s seven deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID test is the lowest daily death toll by this measure since Sept 14.

That progress would allow a staged easing of lockdown to proceed, Johnson said earlier this month, adding that he was looking forward to a pint in a pub garden.

“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,” he 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 programme.”

With more than 127,000 fatalities, the United Kingdom has the fifth highest death toll in the world from COVID-19.

Persuading people to return to some kind of normality and start spending again is key to Britain’s recovery after official data last month showed that 2020 was the worst year for its economy in more than three centuries.

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UK retailers, which have lost an estimated 27 billion pounds ($37 billion) in sales during lockdowns, are hoping pent-up demand will fuel a trading boom.

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.

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