Free at last to hug and party: UK reopens for business

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Friends will hug, pints will be pulled and swathes of the British economy will reopen on Monday, giving 65 million people a measure of freedom after the gloom of a four-month COVID-19 lockdown.

Most of the British will be free once again to hug, albeit cautiously, drink in their pub, sit down to an indoor meal or visit the cinema after a series of lockdowns that imposed the strictest restrictions in peacetime history.

The biggest public health crisis in a century was accompanied by a drastic extension of state power; during England’s lockdowns police broke up parties and protests alike, shut down religious services and handed out fines of up to 10,000 pounds ($14,000) to youngsters for partying.

As freedom beckons once more, there is excitement.

“I shall be hugging literally everyone I can get my hands on,” British actress Joanna Lumley told The Telegraph newspaper. “I shall snatch babies from their mothers, and lean over zimmer frames.

“I shall hug girls at the till, the picture framer, and lads playing footie in the park. Much later obviously I shall be hugging police personnel as I am charged at the station. Hugger-mugger, that’s me.”

Beside the euphoria, though, there is also anxiety.

CUDDLE CAUTIOUSLY

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who before he imposed three national lockdowns had railed against the “nanny” tendencies of the British state, advised people to cuddle cautiously and served notice that the spread of the coronavirus variant first identified in India meant that the final UK reopening in June could be delayed.

There is growing concern about B.1.617.2 which British scientific advisers say will become the dominant variant in the United Kingdom and which is more transmissible than B.1.1.7, the variant first identified in Kent, England.

Broadly, from Monday in England gatherings of up to 30 people will be allowed outdoors, two families will be permitted to meet indoors; cafes, bars and restaurants will reopen for indoor service; care home residents will be allowed to have five visitors; and face coverings will no longer be compulsory in schools.

A ban on international travel has also been lifted.

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