LONDON – It's been dubbed Happy Monday — the day people could put on a bathing suit and swim in an outdoor pool for the first time in months, or rusty golfers strove to hit their drives down the middle of the fairway.
Following a near three-month coronavirus lockdown that along with a rapid rollout of vaccines has seen infections fall dramatically, England embarked on a major easing of restrictions with families and friends able to meet up in outdoor spaces and many sports permitted once again. The other parts of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are taking broadly similar steps.
And, as if right on cue, the weather is improving, with temperatures rising to levels more akin to southern Spain at this time of year.
Under Monday's easing, groups of up to six, or two households, can socialize in parks and gardens once more, while outdoor sports facilities can reopen.
“It’s only because of months of sacrifice and effort that we can take this small step towards freedom today and we must proceed with caution,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a media briefing.
Johnson said it's “inevitable” that cases would start to rise again in coming weeks as Europe struggles with a resurgence of the virus. However, he urged everyone to follow the rules and to get a vaccine jab when called.
Though many aspects of everyday life remain off-limits for at least a few more weeks, many people are relishing their new freedoms, such as playing their outdoor sport of choice, provided the numbers involved meet the limits set out. Organized team sports, such as children's football clubs, can start up again too, up to any number.
One of the first — if not the first — to reopen Monday was the Morley Hayes Golf Club, near Derby in central England, with players teeing off at 12:01 a.m. for a seven-hole floodlit charity tournament.