Nightclubs are thrilled, but doubts cloud “Freedom Day” in England

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LONDON (AP) – Sparkling wine, confetti, midnight countdown: it’s not New Years Eve, but it might as well be for English clubbers. After 17 months of empty dance floors, nightclubs across the country are reopening in style.

From London to Liverpool, thousands of young people plan to dance the night away on ‘Freedom Day’ parties by the time it becomes Monday, when nearly all coronavirus restrictions in England are to be lifted. Face masks will no longer be required by law, and with the social distancing rules removed, there will be no more limits for people attending theatrical performances or large events.

Nightclubs, closed since March 2020, can finally reopen without occupancy restrictions or mask and test requirements. Many reopening evenings planned for the occasion sold out a few days in advance.

This is “the moment we have been waiting for, our customers have been waiting for,” said Tristan Moffat, director of operations for London-based concert hall The Piano Works.

The business wants to reopen after losing about 40,000 pounds ($ 55,000) per month during the pandemic, he said. Her “Freedom Day” party begins Sunday with a countdown to midnight, when staff members plan to cut a ribbon on the dance floor and serve free prosecco to patrons.

But as entertainment companies and ravers gloat, many others are deeply concerned about the UK government’s decision to go ahead with the full reopening of the economy and no longer impose masks at some point. where COVID-19 cases are on the rise. More than 54,000 new cases were confirmed on Saturday, the highest daily number since January, although reported virus deaths have remained relatively low so far.

Officials have repeatedly expressed confidence that the rollout of the vaccine in the UK country – 67.8% of adults, just over half of the total population, have received two doses – will maintain the threat to public health at a distance. But leading international scientists on Friday described “Freedom Day” in England as a threat to the whole world, and 1,200 scientists backed a letter to British medical journal The Lancet criticizing the government’s decision.

“I can’t think of any good realistic scenario out of this strategy, I’m afraid,” said Julian Tang, clinical virologist at the University of Leicester. “I think that’s really a measure of the gravity of the situation.”

Even Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty has warned that “we could be in trouble again surprisingly quickly”. Johnson himself played down talks about freedom and stressed that life would not instantly revert to what it was before the pandemic.

Monday will certainly not be business as usual for Johnson. Prime Minister and Treasury Chief Rishi Sunak both isolate themselves for 10 days after contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday.

Vaccines aren’t foolproof, Tang explained, especially not against potential new “super variants” that might surface after people are allowed to mix recklessly over the summer. Add a flu resurgence in the colder months and that means “a winter of very serious proportions,” he said.

Nightclubs in particular are powerful breeding grounds, Tang said, as many of their primary clientele – people between the ages of 18 and 25 – became eligible for a first dose of the vaccine through the National Health Service on. last month and have not yet received the second necessary injections. to strengthen immunity.

“This population is not fully vaccinated. They don’t mask. They are in very close contact, breathe heavily, shout very loudly to the music, dance with different people, ”he said. “It’s the perfect mixing vessel for the virus to spread and even generate new variants.”

Johnson urged nightclubs and other high-traffic venues to use COVID-19 status certification “for a matter of social responsibility” and only admit patrons who can show they are double-bitten, have a negative test result or have recovered from the disease.

However, there is no legal obligation for them to do so. In a flash poll of 250 bars and night clubs by the Night Time Industries Association last week, 83% said they would not ask people about their COVID-19 status, according to Michael Kill, chief executive of the commercial body. Many owners view passes as a huge drag on customers and accuse the government of “passing the buck” to businesses.

“We’ve heard people boycotting companies that embrace this,” Kill said. “The last thing we want after months of closure is to be hampered again in terms of trade capacity. Either mandate or not mandate. It puts undue pressure on us.”

Russell Quelch, director of operations at REKOM UK, Britain’s largest operator of late-night bars and clubs, called the government’s stance on COVID-19 passes “impractical” and unfair.

Johnson’s decision to remove the legal requirement to cover one’s face in indoor public spaces has also divided opinions and created confusion.

Days after the Prime Minister said masks would still be “expected and recommended” in crowded but not mandatory indoor venues, London Mayor Sadiq Khan contradicted the post, saying passengers on metro and buses on the metro. capital must continue to wear them.

Some retailers, like the Waterstones bookstore chain, have said they will encourage customers to keep their masks on. But many believe that just as COVID-19 status passes, implementing such policies will be tricky without the backing of the law.

The end of restrictions in England on Monday will be a critical moment in Britain’s handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 128,000 people across the country, the highest death toll in Western Europe. Other parts of the UK – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – are taking more cautious steps to come out of the lockdown.

Salsa instructor Esther Alvero is one of the many people who say they are excited but fearful. Co-founder of Cubaneando, a company that had salsa parties, classes and galas performances before the pandemic, Alvero says she has had virtually no income in the past year. Her savings were all gone, and her dancers had to survive by taking part-time jobs as delivery drivers or Amazon cleaners.

“To be honest, we can’t wait to come back. But in some ways it’s scary, nothing at all at the same time, ”Alvero said.

“I’m scared but we have to survive,” she added. “We have no option because the economic consequences could be worse than COVID itself. “

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