England takes a big step toward normality with indoor dining, museum openings and some travel.
In Britain, normality seemed much closer on Monday, with indoor dining and socializing and visits to cinemas becoming options again in England, along with some international travel, and rules also easing in much of Scotland.
The English reopenings are the third step in a cautious plan by the British government to ease all restrictions by the summer. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson sounded a note of caution on Monday.
“All the data shows we’re making great progress against this virus,” Mr. Johnson said in an address to the public. “But to ensure our progress is irreversible we must follow the rules.”
In England as of Monday, outdoor gatherings of up to 30 people and indoor gatherings for up to six people or two households will be permitted. Hostels and hotels will reopen for overnight stays and some nonessential travel abroad without quarantine will return for countries with low caseloads.
For many outdoor diners, who had shivered through a cool and rainy spring, news that indoor spaces were reopening was met with relief. In some pubs in England, Monday came at a stroke after midnight, with eager patrons being invited indoors for the first time since last year.
The financial strain of the past year has been especially heavy on the arts and hospitality sectors, which endured stop-and-start closures. “I just can’t wait,” said Alex McHale, owner of Mauds Cafe in the English town of Pontefract, said in an interview with the radio station LBC, adding that the business had just kept its head above water: “We need this time now to not look back and open the doors and let people in and we need to get that revenue stream back up again.”
The return of government-approved hugging was also welcomed, though experts warned people to be careful, some even demonstrating appropriate hug etiquette on television (with masks and face turned to the side.) And airline executives said there were signs that Monday would be the beginning of a long-hoped-for return to summer tourism, with an increase to bookings to countries on England’s “green list” for leisure travel, even as tighter restrictions remained for travel to most European destinations.
Mr. Johnson urged people to accept vaccines if offered and said though people could now make their own choices about close contact with loved ones, such as hugging, social distancing should remain in public places.
The easing comes as Britain has given more than half its population a vaccine dose and deaths from the virus have dropped to their lowest since last summer.
Still, officials said it was no time for complacency, announcing that they would speed up the delivery of second doses of a vaccine to people over 50 after a coronavirus variant first seen in India was found spreading in Britain. Cases have clustered in Bolton, a town of nearly 200,000 that has one of the country’s highest rates of infection.
Separate rules operate in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland also eased several restrictions on Monday, though retaining them in Glasgow and Moray, which have reported relatively high case numbers, potentially linked to the variant.
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