(Update 1: adds the government's latest Covid figures)
By Remei Calabuig
Edinburgh, UK, Jul 7 (EFE).- The easing of the United Kingdom’s Covid-19 lockdown is moving at different paces in its constituent nations as pub-goers can already enjoy a pint in England and Northern Ireland while those in Scotland and Wales will have to wait until later this month.
Scottish cafes and pubs with outside seating were allowed to reopen this week and, like Wales, its devolved government withdrew the eight kilometer travel limit for non-essential journeys.
However, authorities in both Scotland and Wales have decided to hold back on fully reopening the tourism and hospitality industries, and their beauty salons and hairdressers, until the so-called third phase of de-escalation, which is due to come into effect on Friday.
Pubs in Northern Ireland reopened on Friday. In England, they were allowed to reopen from 6am on Saturday, an occasion that brought people out to the establishments in their hundreds in places like Soho in central London.
Images from the scene showed sparse attention to social distancing measures.
Several pubs in England have been forced to temporarily close again after several customers tested positive for coronavirus and others have shut their doors to disinfect the premises.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a UK-wide lockdown on 23 March but the dismantling of the restrictions was handed to devolved powers in each of the UK nations.
The process has not always been frictionless. The question of air bridges to kickstart tourism has created tensions between England and Scotland, given the latter’s reticence to accept flights from countries that have been badly affected by Covid-19.
Johnson’s Conservative Party government in Westminster has announced that arrivals from 59 countries, including Spain, Italy, France and Greece, will from 10 July no longer have to observe 14 days of self-quarantine once in England.
The move came in a bid to relaunch the tourism and hospitality sectors, which have lobbied for the removal of the obligatory quarantine period as a way to salvage what remains of the summer season.
The leaders of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, Wales, Mark Drakeford, and Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, have yet to say whether they will fall in line with Westminster on the issue of air bridges.
Sturgeon said her cabinet would make a decision “within the coming days” so that new rules could come into effect from Friday, coinciding with England.
Joanne Dooey, the president of the Scottish Passenger Agents Association, said the "ongoing confusion" over quarantine-free travel is having a "massive impact" on the industry, adding that she could not understand why there was not "a clearly defined four nations approach.”
It all comes down to a fear of new outbreaks, which have already been reported in all regions of the UK. In England, parts of the city of Leicester were placed in lockdown again after a local resurgence of coronavirus.
In County Down, Northern Ireland, 16 suspected new cases were detected on Tuesday, prompting the temporary closure of some local businesses and schools.
The Scottish government is expected to remove travel restrictions in Dumfries and Galloway after an outbreak affecting at least 12 people was deemed to be “under control”.
At the end of June, a number of coronavirus cases were traced to meat processing plants in England and Wales.
One Welsh factory was forced to close down after 200 cases were detected.
Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething said on Tuesday that "flare-ups and outbreaks" were a reminder that "we all need to continue to follow the guidance on social distancing as far as possible”.
Wales has taken the strictest measures on social distancing, urging people to keep two meters apart.
Scotland allows some exceptions in public spaces like shops, where masks are obligatory, while England and Northern Ireland recommend a minimum distance of one meter.
UK health authorities on Tuesday reported another 155 Covid-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, a marked increase on the 16 detected Monday and the 22 on Sunday.
There were also a further 581 infections.
More than 44,000 people have died from coronavirus in the UK, making it Europe’s hardest-hit nation in terms of fatalities.
However, the UK’s statistics office (ONS) said in a report that, between March and June, the number of deaths recorded in the population was 59,000 above average.EFE