LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday urged Britons to act responsibly when pubs reopen this weekend and not to blow the collective effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The latest phase in a gradual reopening of the British economy on Saturday will see pubs in England open for the first time since mid-March, as well as restaurants, museums, hotels and other businesses.
The much-awaited event has been dubbed “Super Saturday” in the media, sparking worries that after months cooped up indoors, some people could get carried away and risk spreading COVID-19.
“I hope very much that people will behave responsibly and enjoy summer safely,” Johnson told LBC radio, defending the timing of the reopening by saying it was based on a clear understanding of the risks.
“We think we’re in good shape, but my message is, let’s not blow it now.”
He will later use a government news conference to warn that businesses, livelihoods and the future of the whole economy depends on respecting social distancing rules.
Police are also taking extra measures.
“We are absolutely prepared, and you’ll see a lot of police officers out on the street,” London police chief Cressida Dick told BBC radio. “There will be a lot more ready should people be out of order, should people get violent, but I’m not predicting that at this stage.”
Many of the elements that define a pub will be missing when they reopen. With numbers limited, there will be no crowds, no standing at the bar and no live music.
Drinkers should stay two metres apart where possible, and in venues where they cannot, landlords must take other measures such as partitions between tables. Venues will also have to keep a record of customers in case of a virus outbreak.
Pubs in Northern Ireland reopened on Friday, while those in Scotland can serve drinkers outside from July 6 and reopen fully from July 15. In Wales, pubs will be able to serve drinks outside from July 13.
Johnson has previously said he is looking forward to visiting a pub himself, but has said that patrons will have to stick to new rules.
He will point to a spike in cases that has forced the English city of Leicester to be locked down and warn that freedoms could be swiftly revoked if the virus takes hold elsewhere.
Britain has been among the worst-hit countries in the world in the epidemic. The death toll from confirmed cases of the coronavirus is 43,995, although if suspected cases are included the number is nearly 55,000.
(Reporting by William James and Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison and Angus MacSwan)