There were emotional scenes across the United Kingdom on Monday.
As the clock struck midnight on the 19th July, nightclubs across the country threw their doors open for the first time in sixteen months as the UK government lifted all remaining COVID-19 restrictions.
Whilst confirmed cases of Coronavirus in the UK have been rising sharply in recent weeks, the government has stuck by an earlier decision to remove restrictions across England due to the decrease in hospital admissions and deaths related to COVID-19 following the successful vaccine rollout.
As so-called Freedom Day approached, ecstatic clubgoers across the capital queued anxiously to get into many of London’s best-loved bars and nightclubs, many of which have been closed since lockdown restrictions were first imposed in March 2020.
North London nightclub Egg had a particularly lengthy queue as revellers counted down the minutes to its grand opening, with some having waited in line for hours.
First in line was fundraiser Chloe Waite, 37, who told PA news agency that it felt like ‘New Year’.
“It’s a special night,”she said.
“This is something we’re going to remember for a long, long time.”
She was joined at the front of the queue by London-based video producer Gabriel Wildsmith, 26, who explained he’d been waiting for the moment ‘since we locked down’.
“I love going to clubs and I love meeting random people,” he explained, as doors grew ever-closer to opening. “You make great friends and you couldn’t do that until tonight.”
Once 12:00am finally hit, there were audible cheers outside.
There was heavy police presence around the event, though for the first time since COVID-19 measures were imposed, this wasn’t to ensure that social distancing and other safety measures remained in place. It seemed that authorities had anticipated that the excitement of clubgoers may lead to trouble.
They were somewhat correct – there were soon scenes of attendees being sent across the road from the repurposed Victorian warehouse to sober up with bottles of water as police chatted to security guards at the door.
However, the joy of those inside the venue was clear and palpable.
It was a similar story in Central London, as those with a ticket to the re-opening of Heaven, Charing Cross, were filmed counting down the seconds to the end of lockdown, with thousands of balloons released from the venue’s ceiling as the clock struck midnight.
Reporter Benjamin Butterworth posted a now widely-circulated video of the moment, having told Twitter followers before entering the club ‘I can’t quite believe it’s real’.
“There’s been an excited grin on my face all night,” his Tweet read.
“Like being an hour from walking – or rather dancing – into a parallel universe.”
Benjamin was one of the legal limit of 240 clubgoers allowed into the club under social distancing rules before midnight, with those inside to witness the countdown asked to continue following COVID-19 restrictions in the minutes leading up to the 19th July.
However, minutes after being warned by host Tia Kofi to keep their distance from each other, the clock struck midnight and the crowd at Heaven were joined by the 600 fellow ticket-holders who had been waiting outside in lines that reportedly stretched from Embankment Tube Station to Trafalgar Square.
Owner Jeremy Joseph – who reported that the company had lost over £1 million due to restrictions over the last year – gave an emotionally-charged speech to the eager crowd as his venue reached full capacity.
“This isn’t the end of the pandemic, but it’s the next step,” he told the excited audience.
“Be careful, let’s look after each other and let’s hopefully get back to normality.”
As the clean-up commenced following this landmark re-opening, the team behind Egg was already preparing for their second event on Monday evening as they posted to their Facebook page thanking visitors ‘for a beautiful night’.
As restrictions have gradually lifted over the last few months, many have reported a feeling that things had never been any different – and last night, for some, was no exception.
One clubgoer, who (presumably following 2021’s first real pre-game) gave her name to reporters as Dolores Frankenstein, seemed to be feeling somewhat underwhelmed with the atmosphere.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be good, it might not be. It might be quiet, it might be busy,” she speculated. “I think it’ll be a bit overwhelming to be around so many people again.”
“I’m a bit bored of queueing already,” she admitted.
Despite the differences that so many of us have overcome since last March, it at least appears that some things will never change.
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