Saturday marks the biggest easing of lockdown rules in England since the government announced businesses could start reopening.
The social distancing guidance has been cut to 1-metre-plus, and people can stay away from home overnight. Pubs, restaurants, cinemas and tourist attractions can throw open their doors, hairdressers and barbers can power up the clippers, and hotels, B&Bs and campsites can welcome holidaymakers.
All businesses are promising more cleaning and an abundance of hand sanitiser, and will have to take other measures to keep staff and customers safe. Things will look very different from when we went into lockdown in March. So what can you expect if you venture out?
Hairdressers and barbers
Take a good book if you’re off to get your lockdown locks shorn – there won’t be any magazines to flick through while you are there. Refreshments are off the menu at many salons, although some will still have a limited range. Music will be turned down or turned off, so you won’t have to raise your voice when making small talk.
Hairdressers and barbers will all be wearing see-through visors, and many will provide you with a face mask. At Supercuts, you’ll get a disposable gown, too – the chain is charging customers a £3.60 fee to cover the extra measures it has had to put in place. At Toni & Guy, disposable towels, made of biodegradable viscose fibres, will be used. Salons using reusable towels and gowns will have to wash them after each customer. Payment will be contactless – either via a terminal, or some businesses will be settling bills through their websites and apps.
Your trip won’t be the laid-back pampering experience it was before: salons have been advised to get you out of the door as quickly as possible. You can still get a colour, but if you’re a man looking for a shave, you’re out of luck – barbers can only do haircuts initially.
Don’t assume that your local is open – some owners have decided to delay their emergence from lockdown until a quieter day of the week. Revolution Bars, for example, will only open from Monday. Those that are open may insist that you book in advance, and you may have a limited time at a table.
Even if you do just turn up, you could be asked to provide your contact details. Wetherspoons, for example, will be collecting names and phone numbers on forms which say when you arrived and left – this is for the NHS test and trace programme.
Once there, you may be asked to sanitise your hands before being led to a table by a staff member. There will be no standing at the bar. Pubs will have table service, either sending staff to take customers’ orders or using an app to allow people to buy a round. Most will not offer their usual range of food, and instead of your burger coming with a bottle of ketchup that is moved between tables, you may get a selection of sachets.
There won’t be live music, but there may be football to watch and you can play pool, as long as taking a shot doesn’t mean breaking distancing rules.
You can meet up to five people from different households if you sit outside, so expect groups of friends to have booked up the beer gardens. Inside, members of two households can meet, but many pubs will not let you move chairs between tables. Some pubs are taking over pavements or car parks to provide enough outdoor seating.
Wearing face masks is only mandatory on public transport in England, but other traders may ask you to wear one.
In some hairdressers, for instance, you will be given a mask. You are not legally obliged to wear one, but if you refuse to, you may not get served – different companies are taking different stances.
As a customer, you may be concerned about other people who aren’t wearing them. You could ask to be seated as far away from them as possible, but with space at a premium this may not be possible. Your only option could be to leave if you don’t feel safe.
You will spot the difference as soon as you enter reception, with many hotels installing screens to protect staff as they greet visitors. Your keycard may have a faint tang of bleach, as it will have been sterilised after its last use, and you may need to lug your cases up the stairs as lift use will be restricted.
When you get to your room, you can still expect tea and coffee making facilities and toiletries, but hotels are paring back everything else. Malmaison is replacing magazines and newspapers with digital versions for guests instead. The notebooks and pencils are also out, replaced with complimentary sanitiser wipes. The minibar will be empty, but you can order drinks and snacks for it when you check in. IHG, which runs hotels including Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, has removed some furnishings from its rooms.
For many, the biggest disappointment will be the loss of the breakfast buffet. Instead of being able to help yourself to an assortment of pastries, cereals and cooked food, you may be offered a pre-prepared box of goodies, or order cafe-style at the posher hotels.
While you stay, Travelodge says, staff won’t enter your room. IHG says you will be able to see when areas were last cleaned.
Parks could end up being the overspill areas for pubs, which are now allowed to sell drinks for consumption off their premises. Councils are urging people to behave responsibility and take their litter home.
The government has said playgrounds can reopen, but some councils have decided it isn’t yet safe to allow children back on the climbing frames. If you are planning to take to the swings, remember they won’t be cleaned down between use, so pack some sanitiser and gloves.
Councils have been reopening public toilets, but not all will be available again, so don’t count on being able to go to the loo when you’re out. Now pubs are open, things should be better than when they were just offering off-sales. The same is true of restaurants, which will be opening toilets to those who are eating in. Some pubs are introducing a traffic light system for the toilets – Greene King pubs will ask customers to flip an indicator when they enter and exit. Wetherspoons is asking people to keep left as they approach and enter its loos.
Your gratitude at not having to wash up after dinner, combined with the knowledge that the hospitality sector has had a bad time, may well inspire a generous tip. Most retailers are going cashless, or at least doing everything they can to encourage people to use cards. And the same will generally apply to tips – where you may have previously left cash on the table, you will be asked to tip when paying electronically. The Mexican food chain Wahaca says tips will need to be made by card, and that is pretty standard across the sector. At Supercuts, if you want to tip your hairdresser in cash you will need to put it in an envelope with the stylist’s name on, and it will be quarantined for 72 hours.
Paper menus which are thrown away after every visit, or digital versions available on your phone, have replaced the reusable versions used by most restaurants and cafes pre-pandemic. What’s on the menu may have changed since your last visit, too – Pizza Express, which will open 44 of its branches from 9 July, has reduced its offering, and many others have done the same to make social distancing easier for kitchen staff.
Most restaurants will have fewer tables and chairs to allow more room around customers. At the noodle chain Wagamama the shared tables and benches remain, but there are moveable screens which will be put between groups and cleaned between visits. The company, which will open its Royal Festival Hall branch on Saturday and others later in the month, will also sanitise sauce bottles after every group has left. At Wahaca there will be no sauce bottles on tables. But you can still sip your Corona, and other beers, out of the bottle if you want to.
Lights, camera, anti-viral cleanser … while several of the big chains such as Vue, Cineworld and Picturehouse have said they will not start to open their doors until 31 July, the Odeon chain is due to open 10 locations on Saturday. Showcase is opening nine venues and Everyman, six.
There will be no more tall people sitting in front of you or children kicking the back of your seat, because cinemas are limiting the number of seats available for each film and guaranteeing unoccupied seats between parties.
Staff are likely to be wearing masks, and many chains are encouraging filmgoers to do the same. People are being urged to book in advance online, and the Odeon is among those that will not be accepting cash.
Pick ’n’ mix stands have been banished, but there will be food and drink: the Odeon will be selling prepackaged items, while Everyman will bring your orders to your seat to avoid queuing.
A video on the Showcase site makes clear that there will be a great deal of cleaning going on – it features a man in a hi-vis tabard, gloves and mask liberally spraying anti-viral cleanser all over the seats. You may want to check for damp patches before you sit down.
If strapping yourself into a rollercoaster and being hurled around at 80mph is what’s needed to cure your lockdown blues then, good news: theme parks due to reopen on Saturday include Thorpe Park in Surrey; Alton Towers in Staffordshire; Legoland Windsor in Berkshire; Chessington World of Adventures in Surrey; Blackpool Pleasure Beach; and Paultons Park in Hampshire.
In many cases visitors must book online in advance to guarantee entry, as the parks are restricting the numbers who can visit. And some rides may be closed – for example, Legoland said Lego City Deep Sea Adventure and Haunted House Monster Party would be shut for the time being. The same applies to the dodgems at some locations, including Blackpool.
On arrival, visitors to many theme parks will have their temperature checked. If you don’t agree to this or you are found to have a high temperature, you won’t be going in.
When it comes to face masks, the rules vary. At Thorpe Park, you will need to bring one, and everyone over the age of six must wear one on certain rides. For water rides it recommends you remove them “in case they get wet”. Paultons Park says visitors will not be required to wear a face covering. Chessington says a securely fitted mask will be mandatory on certain rides, and that if you forget to bring yours, you can pick them up there … for £6 each.
Rain and drizzle is forecast for the north, lasting well into the afternoon. In other parts of the country there will be grey skies and strong winds – putting a damper on outdoor pub lunches, making socially distanced queuing less attractive and ensuring more people stay at home than could have been expected.
Some motoring groups are predicting the easing of lockdown could mean the busiest day of the year so far. RAC Breakdown’s prediction that 10.5 million drivers could take to the road may be a worst-case scenario, but areas around tourist hotspots and visitor attractions are likely to be busy. By contrast, the AA says it “does not expect mass congestion across the road network”, adding: “Many will choose to stay home or close to home.” Trains are up and running, but you must remember a face mask.