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In Britain, fears that reopened pubs will drive more virus spread

In Britain, pubs reopened over July 4th weekend after nearly three months of coronavirus lockdowns. Patrons expressed their desire to get out and socialize after the long period of isolation, and business owners took special precautions to prepare. But many revelers ignored appeals for social distancing, and police had to disperse drunken crowds. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Fourth of July is not ordinarily the most popular holiday in Britain, but, this year, there was cause to celebrate.

    The country's pubs opened for the first time in nearly three months after coronavirus lockdowns. In London, however, people ignored appeals for social distancing, and police had to disperse drunken crowds.

    Here's special correspondent Malcolm Brabant.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Judy, like many other Brits, I'm enjoying my first pint of beer in a pub in for over 100 days.

    At first, the government here thought that the restoration of normal services had gone well, but, over the weekend, there came reports of several episodes of bad behavior, which, if repeated, could jeopardize elements of Britain's recovery.

    My report begins in the city of Nottingham, made famous by the legendary outlaw Robin Hood.

    At the 780-year-old Salutation Inn, jeweler Sue Dyer celebrated what was dubbed Britain's Independence Day. Her choice of beverage was appropriate.

  • Sue Dyer:

    There is a lot of people who felt very isolated, who will be struggling with this. So it is nice that they can get out.

    Everybody's gone to a lot of effort to keep people safe, lots of social distances. Everybody whom we have come across so far had been very sensible about things.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Jason Weston runs this, one of the oldest pubs in the world. It's witnessed the 14th century Black Death and the 17th century Great Plague. With COVID-19 still lurking, Weston wants to be on the right side of history.

  • Jason Weston:

    We are being very, very on point. We can't risk the safety of our staff, the safety of our customers. If you are foolish and you don't follow the guidelines, all that is going to happen is, we are going to end up being shut down again.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Weston trusted his patrons not to get hammered.

  • Jason Weston:

    It wasn't the drinking they were missing. They are missing the social aspect of what pubs are.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Car dealer David Wakeling concurred.

  • David Wakeling:

    Just now, being here, being here with friends, having a beer, these simple things, you take for granted. And when you lose that ability, when you lose that chance to have that, to come out and to feel almost freedom, it's one of those liberties that we stand for.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson knew it was a gamble. But he lifted the lockdown to revive Britain's drowning economy.

  • Prime Minsiter Boris Johnson:

    Good evening. Anyone who flouts social distancing and COVID-secure rules is not only putting us all at risk, but letting down those businesses and workers who have done so much to prepare for this new normal.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But the appeal was ignored almost immediately in London's Soho District.

    In another part of the capital, police retreated when they tried to break up a block party and were pelted with bottles. In Nottingham, some self-restraint was also liquidated.

    Some pubs remained closed, and not all out of choice. Despite installing social distancing measures, including booths in his beer garden, landlord Alan Merryweather was unable to open his doors. The reason? His pub is in Leicester, the only city in Britain subjected to a regional lockdown because of a major spike in infections.

  • Alan Merryweather:

    Everyone was looking forward to the Fourth of July. My staff were prepared. The financial implications have hit us quite hard. It's been devastating.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Health officials have identified the source of the spike in a poor neighborhood, mainly home to people with Asian heritage.

    Emergency testing centers were set up by the army, but residents appeared to be staying away. Police guarded the railway station to stop people leaving for nearby cities like Nottingham, so they could go to the pub.

    Willy Bach is Leicester's police commissioner, the civilian overseer of the local force.

  • Lord Willy Bach:

    The British way of policing is by consent. And that's really important. Vital freedoms have been taken away from people, and so it is very important that the law doesn't come down so hard on them.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Among other things, the Fourth of July marked the opening of museums and Nottingham's Robin Hood Experience. Its actors entertain visitors with the legend of the medieval outlaw who, with his merry men, robbed the rich and donated the proceeds to the poor.

  • Adam Sinclair-Greenwood:

    There is something very much in the British psyche about standing up to problems and coming together to fight it.

    And, this time, we are being told to stay apart and do nothing. The best thing you can do is do nothing. And that really has gone against the grain of a lot of people.

  • Bear Black:

    There's a lot of angry people out there. There is a lot of scared people out there. And I think getting small independent businesses back on the streets is really, really important for Nottingham, as it is for a lot of different places. It's been terrifying, really, really terrifying.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The government had hoped the nation would adopt a more sensible rhythm after nearly 45,000 deaths. But there are now widespread fears that Britain's drinking culture could wreck the advances that have been made.

    So important the pubs here, that Prince William felt obliged to have a pathfinding sip of cider. But he's not as thirsty as the average Brit.

    Sales manager Andy Derz.

  • Andy Derz:

    I am 34. I am relatively healthy. I am relatively fit. Am I concerned about it? Not really. No, I am not.

    I would like to continue my life as though it was normal. People talk about the new normal. I think, knowing human beings the way I do, the new normal will be normal, because people are creatures of habits, and they will continue the way that they always did.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    It will take a week or so before Britain discovers whether Independence Day was really incubation day.

    If so, parts of the country could soon be back under lock and chain.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Nottingham.

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