‘Freedom Day’ comes with a whimper as mixed messages and fears of new wave of Covid dampen celebrations

IIt was meant to be a triumphant expression of England’s success in winning over Covid-19. Boris Johnson reportedly planned for a “Churchillian” victory speech to be delivered at a historic location on what has been dubbed “Freedom Day.”

As it turned out, the end of the restrictions imposed by law in England came with more of a whimper than a flowering of war rhetoric.

An alarming increase in hospitalizations has forced the government to tone down its message considerably. The Prime Minister also faced the embarrassing inconvenience of having to self-isolate after Health Secretary Sajid Javid fell with the virus, all of which took the sparkle of the festive mood as the country was choking in a sticky 30 degree air.

These concerns were far from the minds of clubbers on dance floors across the country who were the first to adopt ending restrictions as midnight struck Sunday.

Hungry for the special kind of hedonistic release that only nightclubs can deliver, revelers partied the night away after standing in line for hours in some cases. At London’s Heaven nightclub, balloons rained on an ecstatic crowd as a new era was – hopefully – greeted.

“It was extremely moving to see clubs and venues reopen, with people dancing and listening to music until the early hours of the morning,” said Michael Kill, CEO of the Night-time Industries Association.

People felt safe entering clubs for the first time in 17 months, he said, but he warned that the July 19 reopening was only the first step on a long road back towards the financial viability of an industry decimated by the pandemic and grappling with huge debts.

“In many ways, relief has come from the end of uncertainty,” Kill said. “But it is difficult to shake the lingering concern over a winter wave with further restrictions from October and nightclubs being the scapegoat.”

His words would later prove to be premonitory.

Scientists had already warned before Monday’s reopening that the congregation of thousands of people, many not yet vaccinated, in nightclubs risked creating a wave of new “superspreaders” events.

Far from the blur of restless limbs and dancing bodies on English dance floors, statisticians were releasing cold and harsh data showing just how badly the UK hotel industry is.

As Freedom Day dawned, the Office for National Statistics revealed that spending at pubs, bars, restaurants, hotels and nightclubs had only returned to 70% of its pre-crisis level. pandemic at the end of May.

In the City of London, too, there was little sign that the country had turned a corner. Stock prices plunged and traders’ screens flashed a sea of ​​red when stock markets opened at 7:30 a.m.

The FTSE 100 index fell 2.3%, wiping out £ 44 billion from the value of some of the largest listed companies in the UK. The FTSE 250 index lost an additional £ 9.6 billion. The reason? Investors fear a resurgence of Covid-19 that could derail the global recovery.

Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, summed up the mood: “Far from giving investors a boost of confidence, Freedom Day has seen it evaporate, as the sharp rise in interest rates has evaporated. infection is disrupting businesses across the UK, ”she said.

Much of the problem is that the increase in the number of cases inevitably means that, in addition to people who get sick, many more have to self-isolate after coming into contact with someone with Covid.

“From retail to manufacturing and hospitality, warnings are mounting and rapidly that mandatory isolation is leading to reduced hours of operation, a drag on sales and reduced production,” explained Mrs. Streeter.

Greene King said he had closed 33 of his pubs due to a staff shortage while Slug and Lettuce owner Stonegate reported 1,000 employees were currently unavailable. The so-called pingdemia has also threatened to force the shutdown of production lines at factories, including those of Nissan and Rolls-Royce.

In workshops, pubs and offices, employers each took their own approach on Monday, best interpreting government guidelines within days of its release.

In Soho, John Darling, COO of Peruvian Japanese restaurant Chotto Matte, was relieved by the rule changes.

“The removal of social distancing regulations will allow catering professionals to fully focus on their customers, delivering memorable tours and world-class quality rather than focusing on QR codes, checking tracking and traceability and wearing a mask in the toilet, ”he said.

“Atmosphere, hospitality and commitment will once again be at the top of our agenda! “

At Warwick’s Fourpenny Shop Pub & Hotel, owner Chris Proudfoot said plastic screens have been removed but table service – which is no longer required by law – continues. “Some of our employees wear face shields, but some don’t,” he said.

Just down the street in DIY store Torry, owner Sue Butcher said the morning had been “incredibly busy” and 95% of customers had kept their masks in store. “Of those who were not, several asked if we would like them to do this and customers still practiced social distancing,” she said.

To office workers, Freedom Day looked a lot more like business as usual than a landmark event. Commuters, perhaps unsurprisingly, haven’t flocked to the saunas-like London Underground cars.

The number of passengers on the metro during what was once called rush hour was only 38% of pre-pandemic levels and there has been no increase from last week. By 10 a.m., just 790,000 people had logged in for a trip, up from 2.1 million on an average July day in 2019.

Buses actually saw a 4 percentage point drop in passenger numbers from last week, according to Transport for London. A spokesperson said about 85% of passengers always wore masks.

When evening came on, there was bad news for companies who had rejoiced hours earlier when news of some of the regained freedoms was being removed.

The government said no one could attend a nightclub or big event after the end of September unless they could prove that they had received two doses of the vaccine.

Kate Nicholls, managing director of business organization UK Hospitality, said the announcement was a “hammer blow, on a day when nightclubs … finally have hope they could start doing business in a sustainable way and progress towards reconstruction and repayment of accumulated debts “.

This seemed to provide another example of government inconsistency during the pandemic.

“As recently as last week, the government asked us to work with them on a voluntary program,” she said.

Meanwhile, the number of infections continued to rise. Some 322,170 people have tested positive in the past seven days, up 41.2% from the previous week. Hospital patient admissions rose 39.5% to 4,317 for the week and 296 people died – up 48%.

It was often said during the pandemic that people had become “immune” to statistics; that even the most shocking figures have lost their power to shape our actions.

So it is perhaps the most eye-catching symbolism of July 19, 2021 that will become lasting public memory; the symbolism of a prime minister who declared Freedom Day and then spent it in seclusion at his country residence, Checkers, with his “Churchillian” victory speech presumably in the trash.

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