London clubbers on Monday flocked to one of the first rule-free live music events since the pandemic began last year, dancing through the night and rejoicing in human interaction as England lifted most Covid-19 restrictions at midnight.
Britain, which has one of the world’s highest death tolls from Covid-19, is facing a new wave of cases, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson is lifting most restrictions in England in what some have dubbed “Freedom Day”.
Epidemiologists are generally sceptical that lifting restrictions is the right thing to do, but many young British people have had enough of more than 1 1/2 years of lockdowns and say they crave a party.
“I have not been allowed to dance for like what seems like forever,” said Georgia Pike, 31, at the Oval Space in Hackney, east London. “I want to dance, I want to hear live music, I want the vibe of being at a gig, of being around other people.”
Beside the zest for fun, though, there was also clear concern about a wave of new cases – more than 50,000 per day across the United Kingdom.
“I am so excited – but its mixed with the sense of impending doom,” said Gary Cartmill, 26.
After rushing to vaccinate its population faster than almost all other European countries, Mr Johnson’s government is betting that England can reopen as fully vaccinated people are less likely to get seriously ill with Covid-19.
Promoters of the event, Rob Broadbent and Max Wheeler-Bowden put up a video of themselves getting a Covid test and urged those told to isolate to do so.
They said they reduced the number of bands and the number of venues and lost money on the event because fewer people than expected attended.
Business owners – including nightclubs, travel companies and the hospitality industry – have been desperate to reopen the economy while many students, young people and parents have quietly disregarded many of the most onerous rules.
Artists say the lockdown has been tough.
James Cox, the 32-year-old lead singer of Crows, a post-punk band playing at The Oval Space, said the last time he had performed live was on Halloween 2020.
“Before this, I had a bit of apprehension that I was not going to like it because its been so long,” Cox said. “As soon as I stood on that stage and started soundchecking, I was like: oh yeah I do like this, I do love this, I was like, this is my passion.”
Outside Egg nightclub in north London clubbers queued for more than an hour and cheered as the clock struck midnight, following a countdown from 10.
Fundraiser Chloe Waite, 37, who was first in the queue, said the occasion was “something we’re going to remember for a long time.”
“It’s going to be a special night,” she said.
“For me this is a New Year’s-type event and something we’re going to remember for a long, long time and we might not get the opportunity for a while.”
Gabriel Wildsmith, 26, a video producer from London, who joined Ms Waite at the front of the line said he had missed “meeting random people” and making friends.
“I’m so excited I’ve been waiting for this for so long… basically since we locked down,” he said.
“I love going to clubs and I love meeting random people. You make great friends and you couldn’t do that until tonight.”
He added: “I’ve been here for an hour, I’m really keen.”