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First night out in London after three months of coronavirus lockdown: How did it go?

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Revellers pack a street outside bars in the Soho area of London on July 4, 2020
Revellers pack a street outside bars in the Soho area of London on July 4, 2020   -   Copyright  JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
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English pubs, restaurants, cinemas and hairdressers reopened their doors on Saturday after more than three months of coronavirus lockdown.

Authorities had urged caution, but not all revellers appeared to follow social distancing measures.

At the moment, gatherings of more than six people are still banned in the UK, and it is recommended to stay two-meter apart or to use precautions if that is not possible.

Nevertheless, thousands in London flocked to the famous district of Soho, gathering in large groups, drinking and dancing with little social distancing and almost complete absence of face protection.

Rafal Liszewski, a store manager in Soho, voiced concerns about the swelling crowds on Saturday.

“Quickly everything got out of control and by 8-9 p.m. it was a proper street party with people dancing and drinking,” he said. “Barely anyone was wearing masks and nobody respected social distancing .... to be honest with that many people on one street it was physically impossible.”

The majority of Londoners however appear to have behaved responsibly, according to London's MET police,

"The majority of the public complied with social distancing guidelines and remained vigilant. While some areas were notably busy such as Soho and Portobello Road, we are pleased there were no significant issues or incidents in the capital."

Different story in Southampton, where the National Chair of UK's Police Federation John Apter said he had to deal with "anti-social behaviour", adding that it is "crystal clear that drunk people can't/won't socially distance". He also pointed out that police officers got assaulted in other areas.

Pubs were closed in late March when the United Kingdom first locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The country has since eased up on restrictions later than other countries after suffering the worst outbreak in Europe with more than 280,000 cases and 44,000 deaths.

The easing of restrictions on Saturday included hairdressers, outdoor gyms and playgrounds, hotels, cinemas, museums, art galleries, arcades, libraries, and community centres.

JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
A police officer watches on from an elevated position as revellers drink in the street outside the bars in the Soho area of London on July 4, 2020JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

Queues formed outside hairdressers as places reopened with mandatory masks and new distancing measures in place, as in other countries that have eased lockdowns.

Several pubs contacted by Euronews said they were very busy as people rushed to celebrate the reopening.

But other pub managers said that they planned to reopen next week or later this month due to concerns over weekend crowding that could put restaurant workers at risk.

Ellie Grainger, a manager at London pub The Lyric, said that controlling how many people could enter the toilets (just one person at any given time) was proving difficult.

Frank Augstein/AP Photo
A man enjoys his first beer on the premises, at the Chandos Arms in London, Saturday, July 4, 2020Frank Augstein/AP Photo

It's one of the several measures put in place by the government to encourage social distancing.

The other measures include keeping tables one metre from others, making sure people wear masks when not seated with their group, frequent cleaning and hand washing, and making sure there are queue points to further encourage distancing.

Those who go to pubs will also have to leave their contact information as part of the National Health Service (NHS)'s Test and Trace system, so that if there is a confirmed coronavirus case, guests can be contacted.

Grainger said her team had spent a few days training to make sure that the new measures were in place. "It's not too busy at the moment," she added on Saturday afternoon, but she said that it would get busier.

Frank Augstein/AP Photo
Owner Are Kjetil Kolltveit from Norway put signs in place instructing on social distancing at the Chandos Arms pub in London, Wednesday, July 1, 2020.Frank Augstein/AP Photo

"It feels normal but it’s not normal," said Chris Johnson, a manager at the High Cross Pub in Tottenham. "I think everybody is relieved [to be back] but everybody is still concerned."

Johnson said the team spent nearly two weeks ensuring that they were ready to reopen and said that most guests on Saturday sat outside as there were very few places available inside. The pub opened at midday and he said the return was largely relaxed without queues.

It's a staggered reopening for most, with several pubs choosing to open later than the July 4 date.

Young's is a group that runs 200 pubs and hotels throughout the country and has plans to reopen from Monday July 20th.

"We are currently absorbing the updated guidelines from the government regarding the re-opening of the hospitality sector...and we can’t wait to welcome you back responsibly from this date," the company said in a statement.

Hairdressers also had queues outside as many people showed up to get their first haircut since lockdown began in late March.

Frank Augstein/AP Photo
People queue outside Northfields Barber as it opens for the first time after the COVID-19 lockdown in London, Saturday, July 4, 2020.Frank Augstein/AP Photo

Alba Daja, who runs the ladies' section at Northfields Barber, said she was "a little bit anxious" to return to work. She said that people had queued outside because no one was allowed to wait inside the shop.

"It’s not as busy as we thought," Daja said, adding that it had taken a long time for the team to put new measures into place, which includes distancing inside the shop, wearing visors and increasing cleaning.

England's reopening comes as the virus transmission has gone down significantly but officials have warned that there are risks with easing up on distancing rules.

Although Prime Minister Boris Johnson encouraged people to go to pubs, he also warned everyone to continue distancing.

"We’ve worked so hard and together saved so many lives. Stick to the rules this weekend, keep apart from others and wash your hands several times a day," he tweeted.

Many experts have said that dropping the two metre distancing rule and opening bars simultaneously runs the risk of a second wave.