Businesses have wasted little time in welcoming back customers after lockdown measures eased across the UK at midnight.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the nation to “behave responsibly” as non-essential shops, hairdressers, salons, pubs, restaurants and gyms reopened in England.
In Wales, people can now also visit non-essential shops and travel across the border to other areas of the UK from today.
Meanwhile, people in Northern Ireland are now allowed to meet 10 others outside as the “stay at home” order has been scrapped.
April snow showers made outdoor service at pubs and restaurants a chilly prospect in parts of southern England, but the wintry conditions appeared to do little to dampen enthusiasm.
Some pubs and hairdressers opened at midnight, while shoppers were queuing outside shops early this morning as high street retail opened up.
Shops are allowed to open from 7am-10pm to help prevent overcrowding.
Nevertheless, shoppers across the country lined up outside shops like Primark in Birmingham and JD Sports on Oxford Street this morning to grab the first bargains of the day.
The chief executive of the British Retail Consortium has called today a “big day” for non-essential businesses which are relying on customers for a boost after months of closures.
Helen Dickinson told Sky News that around £30bn of in-store sales have been lost in the pandemic so far and shops are now “desperate to welcome their customers back”.
Ms Dickinson said shops would have been focusing on the safety of their customers in preparations, but the public also has a “part to play” in following the guidance.
Some people welcomed today’s relaxing of the restrictions by visiting pubs and salons at midnight.
Punters in thick coats queued for a pint outside The Oak Inn in Coventry this morning. While in Newcastle, people were at Switch bar into the early hours, and others were seen at the Kentish Belle in southeast London.
Sky’s Sadiya Chowdhury was at a pub in Bexley Heath, southeast London, where staff counted down until midnight to start serving drinks.
Around 18 people had turned up, wrapped up in coats and hats amid the freezing weather.
Asked whether people will be following the rules as everything opens up, one punter said: “Some people will, some people won’t. Good, bad. Some people will flout. I’m not having any more!”
Emma McClarkin, CEO of the British Beer & Pub Association told Sky News today is a “first small step in a very long journey to recovery” for the sector.
She added: “The pandemic has been a really devastating time for all those in the beer and the pubs sector [and] … we won’t be able to enter any sort of profit until all restrictions are lifted.”
Meanwhile, London-based at-home beauty salon Secret Spa started doing appointments at midnight.
Co-owner Emily Ewart-Perks told Sky News the demand is so high today’s bookings are set to double the company’s best-ever takings to date.
“We realised we had quite a few regular clients who we weren’t able to book in on the first day back, so we thought ‘why don’t we open the first moment we can?'” she said.
“It’s so amazing. It’s just been such a long time coming.”
Other businesses are also expecting a welcome boost following months of closures.
Marika Smith, general manager of Hough End Leisure Centre in Withington, Manchester – one of the thousands of indoor exercise spaces reopening – said they have seen a “big uptake” in new people booking to visit the centre.
Ms Smith said: “All of the swimming is fully booked, you can’t get on any, and the same for the busy parts of this evening, 6-7 o’clock, is fully booked.
“We have had quite a big uptake of new people coming to the centre, which I think could be down to people realising that they have spent a lot of time at home and just wanting to get out and about and doing something.”
And the boss of Chester Zoo, Jamie Christon, told Sky News the park has sold out of tickets today and it is largely booked up for the rest of the week. It follows a loss of £11.5m in the pandemic.
Despite the relaxation in lockdown rules, social mixing indoors will remain heavily restricted, with around two in five adults yet to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and the vast majority yet to get both.
“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,” Mr Johnson said.
“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.”
The need for continued vigilance was underlined by former government chief scientific adviser Sir David King, who highlighted a surge in cases in Chile despite a successful vaccination campaign.
He told Sky News: “From the point of view of the population itself, we’re all dying to get out of lockdown.
“From the point of view of the epidemic, I think it’s all a little bit more worrying.”
He added: “Chile is a country where the rate of vaccination amongst the population was third highest in the world – they were ahead of us in terms of the number of people who have had the vaccine – and they’re suddenly now into a third wave.”
Modelling by government advisers in the UK has suggested that Monday’s relaxation will not result in a surge of cases that would put pressure on the NHS, but it is “highly likely” that there will be a further resurgence in hospital admissions and deaths after subsequent steps along the roadmap out of lockdown.
In response to the easing of restriction, the Metropolitan Police said it will be “stepping up” patrols in high footfall areas from Monday.
Jane Connors, the Met’s Deputy Assistant Commissioner, said: “The Met is ready to welcome back people to the streets of London. We will be stepping up our patrols to busy high footfall areas, to look out for everyone’s safety and to disrupt any criminal activity.
“Of course, where we need to take action against those who dangerously flout the rules we will do. While the case rate has declined in London, we have seen the concerning position in northern Europe. It is important that we all stick to the rules so further lockdowns, or restrictions, are avoided.”
The next step in easing lockdown, as per the prime minister’s plans, is the 17 May, when socialising indoors will be permitted under the “rule of six”.
However, this will only happen if experts advising the government judge that the vaccination programme is safely breaking the link between infections and deaths.
After three months of full national lockdown, the government said on Sunday that a further seven people had died in the UK within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test. Another 1,730 lab-confirmed cases were also announced.
Around 61% of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to official figures suggesting that more than 32 million people have received a jab. More than 14% have had both doses.
Mr Johnson welcomed a “record-breaking day” for second doses after figures reported on Sunday stated a rise of 475,230 jabs.