British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that the government could impose local lockdowns if people fail to follow social distancing rules as pubs, cafes and restaurants re-open this weekend.
Pubs in England and Northern Ireland are allowed to open their doors to customers from 6am on Saturday after a three-month closure during the coronavirus pandemic.
Similar venues in Scotland and Wales are expected to follow suit next week, while some pubs and restaurants have already opened outdoor seating areas and takeaway services.
Johnson has encouraged people to spend in shops, pubs and restaurants to help revive the economy following the severe impact of the pandemic.
“We want life to get back to as close to normal as possible as fast as possible,” he told reporters.
Johnson said he wanted people to “enjoy summer safely,” adding that “it’s got to be done in a responsible way”.
Britain’s lockdown had saved “hundreds of thousands of lives” but had a “devastating” impact on its economy, he said.
The UK has reported Europe’s highest death toll linked to the pandemic, with government figures on COVID-19 fatalities rising by 137 on Friday to 44,131.
Health data analysts estimate the true death toll at up to 70,000, based on seasonal excess deaths.
Police and politicians have raised concerns that the reopening of pubs, in particular, could encourage people to ignore social distancing rules and lead to spikes in infections.
Metropolitan Police Commander Bas Javid appealed to Londoners to “remain responsible and keep each other safe”.
“We remain in a health crisis and we all have an essential part in helping to minimise the spread of coronavirus,” Javid said, adding that his officers would be policing hospitality venues over the weekend.
Johnson said he wanted to move away from national measures to “targeted, local measures” for individual premises, districts or whole towns and cities.
He warned that the health of Britain’s economy was “dependent on every single one of us acting responsibly”.
Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, said that if people failed to maintain social distancing “the possibility of a second wave goes up sharply”.
Whitty said the government planned to “walk this narrow path … and balance, the best we can, these multiple risks” between curbing coronavirus infections and reviving the economy.
He said he expected the virus to continue circulating for “a long time”.