Nightclubs across the country are preparing to throw open their doors on the stroke of midnight for 'Freedom Raves' as the last Covid restrictions finally end – but ministers have urged 'caution' as the nation tiptoes out of lockdown.
Thousands of eager revellers across England are expected to pile into discos for the first time since March last year without being required to provide Covid passports or negative test results.
Face masks will also no longer be legally required, and with social distancing rules shelved, there will be no more limits on people attending.
Venues including Fabric, E1, Ministry of Sound and Egg nightclubs in London, Pryzm in Bristol, Powerhouse Night Club in Newcastle and Moon Acre in Dorset will re-open in a matter of hours with huge parties launching the very second that most legal restrictions on social contact are removed.
It's 'the moment we've been waiting for, that our customers have been waiting for,' said Tristan Moffat, operations director of London music venue The Piano Works.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
The business is keen to open its doors again after losing about £40,000 a month during the pandemic, he said.
Its 'Freedom Day' bash starts Sunday with a countdown to midnight when staff members plan to cut a ribbon to the dance floor and serve customers free prosecco.
But while entertainment businesses and ravers are jubilant, many others are deeply worried about the British government's decision to go ahead with fully reopening the economy and no longer mandating masks at a time when Covid-19 cases are on a rapid upswing.
The grand re-opening comes as Covid cases across the UK soared by 52 per cent week-on-week after today recording 48,161 new cases - up from the 31,772 cases recorded last Sunday.
Members of staff at The Piano Works club in Farringdon, London, prepare for its re-opening as part of the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions
Nightclubs and revellers alike have taken to social media to share their enthusiasm at a return to 'normality' on the stroke of midnight.
The Piano Works in Farringdon shared a post that read: 'We can't wait to see you all storm the floor and let loose for the first time in 16 months. It's been a long wait but the day is finally here. Let's get ready to dance the night away!'Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
The Lions Club, Manchester, wrote: '00.01 TONIGHT. From one minute past midnight - it'll go back to as close to The Liars Club as you knew it - ordering at the bar, dance floor is BACK.
'Please consider each other - masks are at guests discretion and things will be different! STAY SAFE - see you later.'
In its own promotion, Pryzm in Bristol said: 'Join us at 11.59pm on Sunday 18th July as we open the doors at midnight and throw our first proper party in 16 months!'
And partygoers were not holding back either as one wrote: '5 hour train ride from Edinburgh to London so I can finally bloody dance in a club full of people from midnight tonight. Give it to me.'
Another added: 'Badly excited to get drunk tonight and be there in a club at midnight when the restrictions get lifted and the dance floor can open!!!!'
And a third said: 'Nightclubs opening at midnight tonight is the best thing everrrrrrrrr.'
Nightclubs and revellers alike have taken to social media to share their enthusiasm at a return to 'normality' at the stroke of midnight
Meanwhile, officials have repeatedly expressed confidence that the UK's vaccine rollout — with just over half of the total population having received two doses — will keep the threat to public health at bay.
But leading international scientists on Friday described England's 'Freedom Day' as a threat to the whole world, and 1,200 scientists backed a letter to British medical journal The Lancet that criticized the government's decision.
'I can't think of any realistic good scenario to come out of this strategy, I'm afraid,' said Julian Tang, a clinical virologist at the University of Leicester. 'I think it's really a degree of how bad it's going to be.'
Even Prime Minister Boris Johnson's chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, warned that 'we could get into trouble again surprisingly fast.'
Mr Johnson himself played down talk of freedom and stressed that life would not instantly revert to how it was pre-pandemic.
It comes as the Prime Minister and Treasury chief Rishi Sunak are both self-isolating for 10 days after contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday.
Vaccines are not foolproof, Tang explained, especially not against potential new 'super variants' that could surface after people are allowed to mix without precautions over the summer. Add a flu resurgence in the colder months and that spells 'a winter of very serious proportions,' he said.
Cleaning operations in full swing at the Powerhouse nightclub in Newcastle, with foggers and vaccuums on the dancefloor ahead of full reopening at midnight
housands of young people plan to dance the night away at 'Freedom Day' parties as the clock strikes midnight. Pictured: Staff at The Piano Works club in Farringdon, London, preparing for its reopening
It's 'the moment we've been waiting for, that our customers have been waiting for,' said Tristan Moffat, operations director of London music venue The Piano Works (staff at the venu
Nightclubs in particular are potent spreading grounds, Tang said, because many in their core customer base — people ages 18 to 25 — became eligible for a first vaccine dose though the National Health Service last month and haven't yet been offered the second shots needed to boost immunity.
'That population is not fully vaccinated. They're not masking. They're in very close contact, heavily breathing, shouting very loudly to the music, dancing with different people,' he said. 'That's the perfect mixing vessel for the virus to spread and to even generate new variants.'
Mr Johnson has urged nightclubs and other venues with big crowds to use Covid-19 status certification 'as a matter of social responsibility,' and only to admit patrons who can show they are double-jabbed, have a negative test result or have recovered from the disease.
There is no legal requirement for them to do so, however.
In a flash poll of 250 late night bars and clubs by the Night Time Industries Association last week, 83% said they won't be asking people about their Covid-19 status, according to Michael Kill, the trade body's chief executive. Many owners see the passes as a huge turn-off for customers and accuse the government of 'passing the buck' to businesses.
'We've heard people will boycott businesses that adopt this,' Kill said. 'The last thing we want after months of closure is to be again hindered in terms of capacity to trade. Either mandate it or don't mandate it. This is putting an inordinate amount of pressure on us.'
Russell Quelch, operations director of REKOM UK, the U.K.'s largest operator of late-night bars and clubs, called the government stance on Covid-19 passes 'unworkable' and unfair.
Johnson's decision to scrap the legal requirement for face coverings in indoor public spaces has also split opinion and sowed confusion.
Days after the prime minister said masks would still be 'expected and recommended' in crowded indoor places but not compulsory, London Mayor Sadiq Khan contradicted the message, saying that passengers on the capital's subways and buses must continue to wear them.
Some retailers, like bookstore chain Waterstones, said they would encourage customers to keep their masks on. But many believe that, just like COVID-19 status passes, implementing such policies will be tricky without the backing of the law.
The end of restrictions in England on Monday will be a critical moment in Britain's handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 128,000 people nationwide, the highest death toll in Western Europe. Other parts of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are taking more cautious steps out of lockdown.
Salsa instructor Esther Alvero is one of the many who say they are excited but fearful. A co-founder of Cubaneando, a company that ran salsa club nights, classes and staged performances for gala events before the pandemic, Alvero says she has had next to no income in the past year.
Her savings have all gone, and her dancers have had to survive by taking part-time jobs as Amazon delivery drivers or cleaners.
'To be honest, we can't wait to get back to it. But in certain ways it's scary, from nothing to all at the same time,' Alvero said.
'I'm scared but we have to survive,' she added. 'We have no option because the economic consequences could be worse than Covid itself.'Social distancing, working from home, masks in shops and on public transport: What WILL and what WON'T change tomorrow when Freedom Day arrives
People in England will