Joy for UK pubs and hugs tempered by rise in virus variant
LONDON (AP) — Drinks were raised in toasts and reunited friends hugged each other as thousands of U.K. pubs and restaurants opened Monday for indoor service for the first time since early January. Yet the prime minister sounded a cautious tone, warning about a more contagious COVID-19 variant that threatens reopening plans.
The latest step in the U.K.'s gradual easing of nationwide restrictions also includes reopening theaters, sports venues and museums, raising hopes that Britain's economy may soon start to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic.
Andy Frantzeskos, a chef at the Nopi restaurant in London's Soho district, said he felt “a bit of anxiousness ... but more excitement than anything.”
“It’s been a long time coming since lockdown, so we’re all happy to be back and want to cook some good food,” he said.
The government is also relaxing guidance on close personal contact, such as hugging, and permitting international travel, although only 12 countries and territories are on the list of “safe” destinations that don't require 10 days of quarantine upon return. Thousands of Britons got up early to check in for the first flights to Portugal, which is on the safe list.
But the rapid spread of a variant first discovered in India is tempering the optimism amid memories of how another variant swept across the country in December, triggering England’s third national lockdown. Public health officials and the government are urging people to continue to observe social distancing, even though the situation is different now because almost 70% of the adult population has received at least one dose of vaccine.
“Please, be cautious about the risks to your loved ones,’’ Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a video posted on Twitter. “Remember that close contact...