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Pubs In England Open

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Here's something people in England have not heard in more than three months.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Do I have anyone that's booked?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Fantastic.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Group of four of us.

KELLY: People lining up for a pint and some lunch at a pub. Today England permitted pubs with outdoor seating as well as shops and hair salons to reopen. This is part of a step by step process to end what British officials hope will be the country's last coronavirus lockdown. NPR's Frank Langfitt is on the line from London to tell us more.

Hey, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Hey. You sound somewhere loud. Where exactly in London are you?

LANGFITT: So I'm at the Carlton Tavern. And around noon today, there was already a line of 20 people lined up to get into the cobbled courtyard here, and it was packed for lunch. I ran into a guy named Rob Smith (ph). He says he had his first pint here when he was just 16 years old. He now works in IT, lives in the neighborhood. And he came by to get a pint of lager. He was just beaming.

ROB SMITH: Pubs are great places. It's not just the alcohol. It's the camaraderie and the fun. And people are happy, and us Brits aren't always happy. But here in the pub, we are.

KELLY: I love that assessment of the British character there, Frank. Is the weather cooperating? It's mid-April, it's Britain, and everybody's trying to be outside.

LANGFITT: So, Mary Louise, it's classically English. I got up this morning, and there was snow falling in my yard. And so I headed out. But nobody here was deterred. You know, an open pub is an open pub. And Rob, the guy you were just hearing from - he showed up in a pair of shorts.

KELLY: In a pair of shorts. I love it. Stick with this idea, though, of pubs reopening. Pubs have struggled so much during the lockdown. I remember your reporting on this on just how many have been lost.

LANGFITT: Yeah. Thousands of pubs, restaurants and clubs have closed permanently. They were already under a lot of pressure because of real estate development, and that's actually the story behind the Carlton Tavern. A developer came in here and illegally knocked it down in 2015, wanted to turn it into apartments. Local activists actually fought him and was able to get the government to make him rebuild it to historic standards brick by brick. So right now we have a century-old pub that actually is brand-new and reopened today. Local people here are thrilled.

MAUREEN PEPPER: It's unbelievable. I keep pinching myself.

LANGFITT: Mary Louise, this is Maureen Pepper. She's a local teacher and a British American dual national who fought to help rebuild the Carlton.

PEPPER: I think it's the heart of the community because it's been used so many times for important milestone celebrations like baptisms, funerals, wakes, first communion celebrations.

KELLY: Sounds like a real celebration there today. What about what else is going on? What else is reopening?

LANGFITT: People are heading out to the barber and the hairdresser. In fact, as you and I are speaking, my wife Julie is getting her first haircut since August. And there were also lines outside lots of department stores - everywhere from Selfridges, a famous department store in London, all the way out to the Welsh capital of Cardiff. There was a big line to get into TK Maxx, which is the U.K. equivalent of TJ Maxx.

KELLY: Oh, OK. Well, I wish Julie luck. I hope it looks fabulous. I do have to ask, though - the calculation in Britain must be not entirely dissimilar to the U.S., where everybody wants things to reopen but the risks remain real.

LANGFITT: Yeah, they are. One reason the government is confident here is the vaccine program is going very well. Thirty-two million people have gotten their first dose. That's 47% of the population. But, of course, there's still a lot of people to vaccinate. These vaccines aren't 100%, and there's a fear that there could be another wave, though probably it would not be as deadly as past ones.

KELLY: Well, let's hope for that. That is NPR's Frank Langfitt reporting from a pub reopening today there in London.

Thank you, Frank.

LANGFITT: I'll lift a pint to you, Mary Louise. Great to talk.

KELLY: (Laughter) I'll take it.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIGITALISM SONG, "MIRAGE (PART ONE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.