'No social distancing, no masks': Anger and joy as Soho streets packed with revellers after lockdown eases

Ross McGuinness
·4-min read
People gather in Soho, London, where streets were closed to traffic as bars and restaurants opened for outside eating and drinking, as lockdown measures are eased across the UK. Picture date: Tuesday April 13, 2021. Photo credit should read: Matt Crossick/Empics
People gather in Soho, London, on Monday evening after lockdown restrictions eased. (PA)

There was both anger and joy as revellers filled the streets of central London on Monday after England’s coronavirus lockdown was eased.

People across the country flocked to drink outside at the nation’s pubs as beer gardens were allowed to reopen.

Pubs and restaurants were allowed customers outside for the first time in months as part of the government’s lockdown easing roadmap – which also saw shops, gyms, hairdressers, zoos and libraries all reopen.

Videos posted on social media showed hundreds of people drinking outside in the streets of Soho in London, with some comparing it to VE Day.

People were packed onto tables laden with food and drinks, while several dozen more stood on the streets cheering the first night of pubs and bars reopening.

Watch: Londoners return to Soho bars on 'Manic Monday'

US/British playwright and broadcaster Bonnie Greer, who lives in the area, tweeted her concern.

“Feel sorry for these people jammed up in the road at the end of my street,” she wrote.

“No social distancing. No masks. Landlords dancing around in glee like the chorus of the Royal Ballet. 

“Cops have given up. Choppers overhead trying to gauge the crowds, I guess. It's sad.”

However, the mood on the ground in Soho was more celebratory, although even those enjoying themselves pointed out there was “very little” social distancing.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 12: People crowd the Soho area after restaurants and pubs, which were closed within the nationwide lockdown imposed to stem the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), re-open in London, United Kingdom on April 12, 2021. Restaurants and pubs are made available to serve outdoors with the easing of COVID-19 measures. Easing of nationwide lockdown, imposed since January 5th, began. (Photo by Hasan Esen/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A police officer stands in the middle of a crowd of people in Soho, London, on Monday. (Getty Images)
People gather for drinks and food in Old Compton Street, Soho, central London, where streets have been closed to traffic to create outdoor seating areas for the reopening bars and restaurants as England takes another step back towards normality with the further easing of lockdown restrictions. Picture date: Monday April 12, 2021.
People gather for drinks in Old Compton Street, Soho, central London, on Monday, as England's lockdown eased. (PA)

Attila Kulcsar, a media communications manager, said the crowds felt “like a return to the ‘real’ Soho of the 1990s”.

He said: “Tonight’s atmosphere beats the whole of last summer. It really is like how I imagine VE Day.

“It’s almost like watching Hogarth paintings come to life in 2021. There is a wonderfully raucous hysteria everywhere. It’s very celebratory.”

But he added: “There is very little social distancing. A distinct sense that people feel the COVID restrictions have ended.

“There are lots of police around Soho as well as COVID marshalls, but there is no word from them about social distancing… if anything they seem to be joining in the festivities.”

A recent study in Ireland found that only 1 in 1,000 COVID cases were caught outdoors

However, experts are clear that social distancing must still be maintain in outdoor environments to reduce risk of transmission.

Westminster City Council said it was aware of “isolated incidents of crowding” and that it was working with businesses to ensure they are operating “responsibly and safely in line with guidance”.

The Metropolitan Police said on Monday its officers would be patrolling busy areas of London “to keep people safe” as restrictions eased.

Deputy assistant commissioner Jane Connors, the force’s lead for its COVID-19 response, said: “We will be stepping up our patrols to busy high footfall areas, to look out for everyone’s safety and to disrupt any criminal activity.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 12: People crowd the Soho area after restaurants and pubs, which were closed within the nationwide lockdown imposed to stem the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), re-open in London, United Kingdom on April 12, 2021. Restaurants and pubs are made available to serve outdoors with the easing of COVID-19 measures. Easing of nationwide lockdown, imposed since January 5th, began. (Photo by Hasan Esen/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Police officers patrol crowds in Soho, London, on Monday evening. (Getty Images)
Police officers wearing protective face coverings to combat the spread of the coronavirus, speak with customers enjoying drinks at tables outside the pubs and bars in the Soho area of London, on April 12, 2021 as coronavirus restrictions are eased across the country in step two of the government's roadmap out of England's third national lockdown. - Britons on Monday toasted a significant easing of coronavirus restrictions, with early morning pints -- and much-needed haircuts -- as the country took a tentative step towards the resumption of normal life. Businesses including non-essential retail, gyms, salons and outdoor hospitality were all able to open for the first time in months in the second step of the government's roadmap out of lockdown. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Police officers speak to customers outside the pubs and bars in the Soho area of London on Monday evening. (AFP via Getty Images)

“Of course, where we need to take action against those who dangerously flout the rules we will do.”

Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol and a member of the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said on Tuesday: “If I did (go to a beer garden) I would certainly avoid contact with other people.”

He told BBC Breakfast: “I think the risks of transmissions outside are relatively low but not if you start coming into close contact with people… if you cough or sing or really basically confront someone in the face.

“People need to see this in relative terms. It’s not like it’s over and we can all go back to normal, because otherwise there will be risks.”

Revellers packed into Soho at the same time dozens of people in parts of south London were told to isolate after contracting the COVID-19 variant first identified in South Africa.

There will be a surge in testing in the boroughs of Lambeth and Wandsworth after 44 confirmed cases of the strain, with a further 30 suspected.

Watch: Shoppers and drinkers return as lockdown eases