England’s shops, hairdressers, pub beer gardens and pavement cafes reopened on Monday as the coronavirus lockdown eased.
Boris Johnson urged the nation to “behave responsibly” as life took another step back towards normality, with indoor gyms, swimming pools, nail salons and zoos also welcoming customers.
Wales will also enjoy renewed freedoms from Monday, with non-essential retail reopened and border restrictions eased to permit travel again with the rest of the UK and Ireland.
Remaining school pupils returned to face-to-face teaching in Wales and Northern Ireland, in moves being echoed in Scotland as some pupils return from their Easter breaks.
The “stay at home” order in Northern Ireland also ended as the number of people permitted to meet outdoors increased from six to 10.
April snow showers made al fresco dining a chilly prospect in parts of southern England, but the wintry conditions appeared to do little to dampen enthusiasm as customers queued outside shops and waited for hairdressers to cut locks after months without a trim.
Despite the relaxation in lockdown rules, social mixing indoors will remain heavily restricted, with around two in five adults yet to receive their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and the vast majority yet to get both.
The UK Prime Minister urged caution during the “major step forward” as a scientist advising the Government warned the rules must be followed to minimise a possible rebound in case numbers.
“I’m sure it will be a huge relief for those business owners who have been closed for so long, and for everyone else it’s a chance to get back to doing some of the things we love and have missed,” Mr Johnson said.
“I urge everyone to continue to behave responsibly and remember ‘hands, face, space and fresh air’ to suppress Covid as we push on with our vaccination programme.”
The need for continued vigilance was underlined by former government chief scientific adviser Sir David King, who highlighted a surge in cases in Chile despite a successful vaccination campaign.
He told Sky News: “From the point of view of the population itself, we’re all dying to get out of lockdown.
“From the point of view of the epidemic, I think it’s all a little bit more worrying.”
He added: “Chile is a country where the rate of vaccination amongst the population was third highest in the world – they were ahead of us in terms of the number of people who have had the vaccine – and they’re suddenly now into a third wave.”
Modelling by Government advisers in the UK has suggested that Monday’s relaxation will not result in a surge of cases that would put pressure on the NHS, but it is “highly likely” that there will be a further resurgence in hospital admissions and deaths after subsequent steps along the road map out of lockdown.
The fanfare for the easing of restrictions has been muted by the national mourning for the Duke of Edinburgh.
Mr Johnson postponed his celebratory pint and Government communications have been pared back to essential messages after Philip’s death on Friday at the age of 99.