Coronavirus: Health minister hails responsible behaviour after English pubs reopen

A car tries to drive along a street filled with people drinking in the Soho area of London, on July 4, 2020.
A car tries to drive along a street filled with people drinking in the Soho area of London, on July 4, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - People in England appear to have broadly behaved themselves as pubs reopened this weekend, Britain's health minister Matt Hancock said on Sunday (July 5) after the latest step towards a return to normality from the coronavirus lockdown.

Thousands of people flocked to pubs, restaurants and bars around England on Saturday as large parts of the hospitality sector reopened for the first time since March.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people to "enjoy summer safely" as he bids to tread a narrow path of restoring consumer spending to help battered businesses recover, while avoiding a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

Mr Hancock said he was satisfied with how the latest step to ease the lockdown had gone, and played down individual cases where social distancing guidelines were not respected.

"From what I've seen, although there's some pictures to the contrary, very very largely people have acted responsibly," he told Sky News.

"Overall, I'm pleased with what happened yesterday. It was really good to see people out and about, and largely socially distancing."

Britain has been the European country worst hit by the coronavirus and has an official death toll of 44,198.

The rule changes apply only to England as the devolved nations in the United Kingdom have been setting their own timetables for easing restrictions, with Wales and Scotland easing restrictions more slowly.

Police Federation National Chair John Apter questioned whether the idea of staying socially distanced was compatible with excessive alcohol consumption.

 
 
 

"What was crystal clear is that drunk people can't/won't socially distance," he said in a tweet after finishing a shift in Southampton, south England. "It was a busy night but the shift managed to cope."

On another matter, Mr Hancock said Britain is putting £8.4 million (S$14.63 million) into a new study to examine the long-term effects of Covid-19 on patients.

The coronavirus which causes Covid-19 has been observed to cause many health impacts for some patients beyond immediate respiratory issues, but with other infected people asymptomatic, the workings of the virus are not fully understood.

"As we continue our fight against this global pandemic, we are learning more and more about the impact the disease can have, not only on immediate health, but longer-term physical and mental health too," Mr Hancock said.

The Department of Health said 10,000 people would take part in the study, which is being led by the University of Leicester and hospitals in the city.

Lung and blood samples of the patients will be taken and they will also be assessed by advanced imaging, and the findings will be used to develop new forms of personalised treatment.