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UK economy partially reopens as next stage of lockdown lift enacted

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·5-min read
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Kelly Boad, owner of Hair & Beauty Gallery, gives Sue Butcher a haircut as non-essential businesses reopen as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown restrictions begin to ease in Warwick, Britain, early April 12, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Boyers
Non-essential stores have been shut since 5 January when Johnson announced a third lockdown in England, with similar measures taken across the devolved nations. Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Boyers

Outdoor areas in pubs and restaurants, hairdressers, gyms and non-essential retailers will be open for the first time in months today in England, as the nation moves to the next stage of its coronavirus reopening roadmap. 

Prime minister Boris Johnson reminded people to "behave responsibly," while warnings from scientists over the weekend urged caution amid evidence of virus hotspots in many parts of the country.

The easing comes as temperatures have dropped across the country, with some areas seeing sleet and snow. 

Non-essential stores have been shut since 5 January when Johnson announced a third lockdown in England, with similar measures taken across the devolved nations.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland's stay-at-home orders have eased and some other restrictions have been lifted in Scotland and Wales. 

John Witts enjoys a drink at the reopening of the Figure of Eight pub, in Birmingham, as England takes another step back towards normality with the further easing of lockdown restrictions. Picture date: Monday April 12, 2021.
John Witts enjoys a drink at the reopening of the Figure of Eight pub, in Birmingham, as England takes another step back towards normality with the further easing of lockdown restrictions. Picture date: Monday April 12, 2021. Photo: Jacob King / PA Images

The news has buoyed business confidence. In a survey released on Monday morning, 58% of small businesses said that they expect their performance to improve this quarter as Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown enters its next stage.

The latest small business index study from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) showed that the majority of firms are forecasting an increase in revenues, the highest proportion since the summer of 2015.

While less than a third (31%) of small firms said they expected their performance to worsen in the next three months, fewer than one in four (24%) anticipate a fall in sales. The same figure stood at 84% at this time last year.

READ MORE: Scientists warn reopening UK too fast could spur third COVID wave

To manage caseloads, free rapid tests are now available to everyone in England, even if they don't have symptoms.

The list of changes in England from today include:

  • non-essential retail can reopen

  • personal care services such as hairdressers and nail salons can reopen, including those provided from a mobile setting

  • public buildings such as libraries and community centres can reopen

  • outdoor hospitality venues can reopen, with table service only

  • most outdoor attractions including zoos, theme parks, and drive-in performances (such as cinemas and concerts) can reopen

  • some smaller outdoor events such as fetes, literary fairs, and fairgrounds can take place

  • indoor leisure and sports facilities can reopen for individual exercise, or exercise with your household or support bubble

  • all childcare and supervised activities are allowed indoors (as well as outdoors) for all children. Parent and child groups can take place indoors (as well as outdoors) for up to 15 people (children under 5 will not be counted in this number)

  • weddings, civil partnership ceremonies, wakes and other commemorative events can take place for up to 15 people (anyone working is not included in this limit), including in indoor venues that are permitted to open or where an exemption applies. Wedding receptions can also take place for up to 15 people, but must take place outdoors, not including private gardens

  • self-contained accommodation can stay open for overnight stays in England with your household or support bubble

  • care home residents will be able to nominate two named individuals for regular indoor visits (following a rapid lateral flow test).

The government has also said that people should continue to work from home if you can, and minimise the amount that you travel where possible.

READ MORE: How to manage and support someone with 'long COVID'

The rule of six is also returning. You can now meet up outdoors with friends and family you do not live with, either: in a group of up to 6 from any number of households (children of all ages count towards the limit of 6); or in a group of any size from up to two households (each household can include an existing support bubble, if eligible). 

The next stage of lockdown lifting is due to kick in no earlier than May 17, when people will be allowed to meet in groups of no more than 30; indoor dining and drinking can resume in pubs and restaurants; and indoor entertainment such as museums, theatres, cinemas and children's play areas can open. 

There was a sense of trepidation on reopening plans among business leaders speaking on Monday. 

Emma McClarkin, CEO of the British Beer & Pub Association, said some pubs were “hanging on by their fingertips” and needed government support to encourage costumers back.

“It’s a first small step in a very long journey to recovery,” she said, speaking on Sky News.

“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."

Sacha Berendji, operations and property director of Marks & Spencer, said stores were “safe and secure,” and that he was “very confident” customers would be able to return comfortably.

Speaking on the Today programme, he said: “The pandemic is definitely not over and we do need to make sure we come out of this in a safe and responsible way."

Watch: Should I book a holiday in 2021?

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