It has been called Happy Monday – the day people could put on a swimsuit and swim in an outdoor pool for the first time in months, or rusty golfers aspired to hit their devices along the middle of the fairway.
After a nearly three-month lock-in of coronavirus that, along with a rapid rollout of vaccines, has led to a dramatic drop in infections, England began with a greater easing of restrictions with family and friends meeting outdoors and many sports being allowed again. The other parts of the UK – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – are taking largely similar steps.
And as expected, the weather is improving, with temperatures rising to levels similar to southern Spain at this time of year.
During Monday’s relief, groups of up to six, or two households, can socialize in parks and gardens once, while outdoor sports facilities can reopen.
“It is only because of months of sacrifice and effort that we can take this small step towards freedom today and we must proceed with caution,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a news conference.
Johnson said it was “inevitable” that cases would start rising again in the coming weeks as Europe struggled with a recurrence of the virus. However, he urged everyone to follow the rules and get a vaccine stop when they were called.
Although many aspects of everyday life remain outside the borders for at least a few more weeks, many enjoy their new freedoms, such as playing their chosen outdoor sport, provided that the number involved meets the specified limits. Organized team sports, such as football clubs for children, can start up again, up to any number.
One of the first – if not the first – to reopen on Monday was Morley Hayes Golf Club, near Derby in central England, with players starting at 12:01 for a seven-hole lighted charity tournament.
Many aspects of England’s deadlock remain with the British Government emphasizing that it is taking a cautious approach to lifting the restrictions, not least due to increasing cases in continental Europe. It says future plans to lift restrictions, such as allowing pubs to serve beer outside April 12, could be delayed if the virus background worsens.
“The whole point of the roadmap and the time scale we have is that it gives us a chance to evaluate data as we move forward,” Johnson said.
The police emphasized that officers will remain very visible, even in open spaces, and will not hesitate to fine anyone who goes beyond what is allowed, such as those who gather at house parties.
“We apologize for our tough stance in shutting down large gatherings that jeopardize public safety,” said Deputy Commissioner Jane Connors, who is leading the coronavirus response to the London Metropolitan Police.
Most non-important companies are closed together with pubs, restaurants, gyms, cinemas, theaters, museums and sports arenas. And the government continues to encourage people to work from home where they can, while travel abroad is prohibited except for some special reasons.
Although new cases and deaths from coronavirus are at their lowest levels in about six months, the UK has suffered the deadliest outbreak in Europe, with more than 126,500 coronavirus-related deaths, according to government figures. Other measures put the death toll higher, as very little was tested for the virus during the first days of the pandemic a year ago.
Families who have lost loved ones have begun painting a mural of nearly 150,000 hand-drawn hearts on the south bank of the Thames in London opposite Parliament to commemorate those who have died. The mural is expected to extend more than half a mile (almost a kilometer) when completed.
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice group, which calls on the government to launch an investigation into the handling of the pandemic, said the unlicensed mural was not intended to be “political or antagonistic” but instead to provide a “visual representation” of each lost life.
“Like the scale of our collective loss, this memorial will be huge,” said Matt Fowler, co-founder of the group, who lost his father to the virus.
Restrictions have been eased as official figures show that more than 30 million people in the UK have received a first vaccine dose, which accounts for around 57% of all adults. The UK has rolled out vaccines by age group – those aged 50 and over have been able to get a first shot – and aims to give everyone over the age of 18 a first jab in July.
Due to supply constraints, the roll-out of the first doses to those under 50 will be paused in April, with a focus mainly on delivering other shots to those who are considered most vulnerable.
“We continue to consolidate the population, roll out the vaccine at the rate we are,” Johnson said.