LONDON: Britain’s police said Sunday that revellers who packed London’s Soho district the night pubs finally reopened made it “crystal clear” that drunk people cannot socially distance.
England’s hospitality sector sprung back to life after a three-month coronavirus hiatus on what the media dubbed as either “Super Saturday” or “Independence Day”.
Pubs and restaurants were allowed to start seating clients, and barbers could get their clippers out for the first time since March.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced queries about why he decided to schedule the grand reopening for a Saturday instead of a potentially less chaotic Monday.
Johnson said Friday that it would not have made much of a difference either way.
But the head of Britain’s police federation said he ended up dealing with “naked men, happy drunks, angry drunks, fights and more angry drunks” while on shift.
“What was crystal clear is that drunk people can’t, or won’t socially distance,” John Apter told London radio.
He said his own police department in the southern city of Southampton “managed to cope”.
“I know other areas have had issues with officers being assaulted,” Apter said.
A scan of police reports from Saturday night showed a similar level of mischief-making across England.
Officers in the southwestern Devon and Cornwall region had logged up nearly 1,000 reports of “drink-related disorder and anti-social behaviour” by late Saturday.
There were also reports of illegal raves in London and the northeast that resulted in mass arrests as well as disorder in the north Midlands.
Pubs in Wales and Scotland will partially reopen by mid-July while those in Ireland have had table service since Friday.
Government on defensive
Britain’s lockdown lasted longer and ended later than in most European countries because of a soaring death toll that is now the world’s third highest.
The official fatality figure is around 44,000 and one in which Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate is higher than 50,000.
Either measure makes Britain’s toll Europe’s worst.
A safe reopening that averts the need for second lockdowns over large areas is seen as vital to Johnson’s long-term success.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the government’s decision-making and played down any immediate safety concerns.
“From what I’ve seen, although there’s some pictures to the contrary, very, very largely people have acted responsibly,” Hancock told Sky News.
“So overall I’m pleased with what happened yesterday. It was really good to see people out and about and largely, very largely social distancing.”
Johnson’s government re-shuttered stores in the central city of Leicester last week because of a local infections spike.
The outbreak has been traced to local food and garment producers that reportedly failed to observe social distancing measures and violated other rules.
The National Crime Agency launched an investigation after The Sunday Times reported one of the factories operated a sweatshop that paid illegally low wages.
The agency said officers had “attended a number of business premises in Leicester area to assess concerns of modern slavery and human trafficking”.
No charges have been brought to date.