COVID-19: The party was in full swing on the first Saturday after a long lockdown

The party was in full swing in Soho on the first weekend after a long lockdown.

People danced in the streets, and groups erupted into bursts of spontaneous cheering, as a largely young crowd packed tables, most of which were booked up for both Saturday and Sunday.

Pierre, who was celebrating his 21st birthday with friends, reserved a spot a month ago.

"I am so happy to be able to celebrate with my friends, I feel free," he said.

Couple Joshua and Sophie were excited to go out for a meal for the first time in more than four months.

"I get to spend time with my babe outside of the house, we get to see the lovely sun shining, we get to see wonderful faces, all these people enjoying their food, their miso soup, the energy is wonderful," said Joshua.

Those without a booking lingered on the pavement, with the crowd getting dense at times. Restaurateurs say the demand from customers has been unprecedented.

"The phone has not stopped ringing since we put it back on, and for online bookings, the majority of time left was either quite early or quite late," said Craig Gordon, owner of Home SW15 restaurant in Putney, South London, which is fully booked for the next four weeks.

"We’ve taken on a site as a pop up and we have 40 covers there," he adds.

And it’s not just hospitality – after months of DIY haircuts customers flocked to Ismail’s Barbers in Kingston with a queue forming outside.

"It’s been crazy. We opened at midnight on Monday and have been flat out since," says the manager of the family business Zeshan Ismail. "Because of the whole lockdown and pandemic, I think it’s changed a lot of people, they wanted a whole new lifestyle, new haircut," Ismail adds.

But not all shops feel now is the right time to reopen. Banquet Records has strong online trade, and will remain closed until all staff have been offered a vaccine.

"Coming into a record shop should be this great experience where you come in for five minutes, but you actually stay for half an hour, you lose yourself in the moment, and in COVID times it needs to be in and out, in and out, as quick as you can," says Jon Tolley, Banquet Records manager.

Scientists still urge caution because the virus and its variants are still circulating.

"I’m less concerned about reopening outdoor venues and more concerned about indoor venues where we know transmission does happen particularly given that predominant mode of transmission is aerosol transmission" says clinical epidemiologist Dr Deepti Gurdasani.

"So much more concerned about gyms, hairdressers, and shops opening without adequate mitigations in place," she says.

But on this spring weekend there was palpable joy of regaining some of what the pandemic has taken away.

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