LONDON – Perhaps nothing is more typical of British culture than a pub.
Beer-eating Britons have been deprived of their regular hauntings since the country was abruptly closed in March when the coronavirus pandemic spread.
On almost every street corner, pubs are part of British life – a place to gather, chat and drink. But in the past few months, the British have had to drink at home.
That will change on Saturday when pubs in England are officially allowed to reopen – a date that many night owls already call “Independence Day”
Pubs in Scotland and Wales are expected to reopen later this month, while they will reopen in Northern Ireland on Friday.
Bar stools are dusted, counters wiped with disinfectant, and fireplaces are lit again as pubs prepare to open their doors – and many parched pub goers are thrilled.
“We want to get human again,” Ian Snowball, a bar owner, told NBC News.
“There is real excitement,” he said. “They want to drop their hair.”
Snowball, the owner of the Showtime bar in the northern English town of Huddersfield, wastes no time and reopens early Saturday morning.
His facility can usually accommodate around 500 people, but due to restrictions that require people to be at least 3 feet apart, he expects to attract around 175 customers.
Drinkers at his family-run business, which opened in 2018, must register their names and addresses at the front desk upon entering – to be followed and followed if the virus is discovered later – and to have their temperatures measured before heading to the main bar.
You will then be taken to a numbered table with floor markings, creating clear one-way streets. Although the toilets will be open, cameras will be used throughout the building to ensure that no crowds gather.
Snowball admits that the atmosphere may feel “subdued” compared to life before the virus, but expects people to be happy to be out again.
“There will be massive demand,” he says cheerfully, adding that the local police have already promised to conduct additional patrols in the area over the weekend if the amusement turns into anti-social behavior.
Police forces across England have warned party goers to drink sensibly and be aware of the remaining social distance restrictions. Authorities are keen to avoid repeating scenes in the past month in which thousands have violated security guidelines and flocked to the English coast in hot weather.
The UK’s National Health Service, which is still suffering from coronavirus strain, is concerned that heavy drinkers may expand services.
“It would be heartbreaking to see the emergency room overwhelmed the first night after the blockade by people who are too drunk or in a fight,” warned Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, in a statement.
Around 80 percent of the 37,500 pubs in England are likely to reopen, according to the British Beer and Pub Association, a trade organization.
But although they are revered in British society, pubs have shrunk and closed in recent years as rents rise, supermarkets discount beer a lot, and health-conscious younger generations turn away from alcohol.
But the pandemic was fatal to many pubs. Owners across the country have had to dump and throw at least 70 million pints of beer since the block began, the British Beer and Pub Association estimates.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was hospitalized with the corona virus in April himself, has urged the country not to overdo it this weekend if the blockade wears off.
As a token of support, Prince William went to his local Norfolk pub near the Royal Sandringham Estate on Friday to drink cider and talk to the bar staff about their experiences during the pandemic.
Hair salons, restaurants and museums will also reopen on Saturday as the hardest hit UK economy finds its way out of the public health crisis, which has reportedly killed nearly 44,000 people.
Britain has one of the highest casualties for COVID-19 worldwide.
While in Leicester, a city in the middle of England, the block restrictions were reinstated this week after a local flare, this is evidence that the deadly virus is still lurking.
Not all pubs want to dip their toes this weekend.
The Red Lion and Sun, a pub in north London, has decided to keep its doors closed to customers, but will serve take-away drinks.
“Nobody wants to open more pubs than I do, but we sure have to do it for you, our customers, and our employees,” wrote his owner Heath Ball on Instagram. “We won’t jump back on July 4th … people over pound notes.”
51-year-old Lawrence Ambrose is enjoying a pint of Guinness in his local London pub. But he expects Saturday to be “a melee of madness” with large drunken crowds and busy public transportation – and still fears the virus.
“I’m not going to hurry on Saturday, it’s going to be chaos,” he told NBC News.