Watch: Londoners pack Soho streets on Sunday night on first weekend since lockdown rules were eased
Covid rules forcing people to eat and drink outside pubs and restaurants have left police in an impossible position with officers unsure how to deal with large crowds, it was claimed on Sunday.
The first weekend since restrictions were eased, combined with fine and settled weather, brought thousands of people out to enjoy their first taste of socialising since before Christmas.
In city centres across the country, closed off roads were transformed into makeshift party venues with bars and restaurants offering outdoor seating for customers.
But despite warnings that social distancing rules must be maintained, scenes in areas like Soho in central London, suggested little notice was being taken of the law.
As the drink flowed, hundreds of revellers crowded together in the narrow streets, leaving police with the headache of trying to control the crowds, pictured below.
Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation said yet again the Covid rules had placed frontline officers in a difficult situation.
He said: “We are facing a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation still, and Soho is a prime example. How on earth are we supposed to police that?
“The local councils have made it easy for people to do pretty much what they want. The council is carrying out regular patrols and are calling the police if there are any major problems but in terms of making sure people stick to social distancing it is extremely difficult.”
John Apter, the national chair of the Police Federation, said: "It is clear that alcohol and social distancing do not mix."
The pub and restaurant trade has also criticised the outdoor hospitality rules, insisting there is no evidence to maintain the ban on indoor venues.
Watch: How England will leave lockdown
The industry will find out this week if the High Court has granted permission to launch a Judicial Review over the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown.
Sacha Lord, the Night Time Economy Advisor for Greater Manchester, said: “We are calling for fairness. Hospitality in the UK has spent half a billion pounds putting all these measures in place.
“We cannot understand when we are operating at 50 per cent, with social distancing, table service, track and trace and all these, yet you can walk freely around the high street in and out of shops indoors, It doesn’t seem fair to us.”
Les Langley, who helps run a restaurant chain in the North East, said: "The whole thing is a complete farce and unsustainable for businesses. Shopkeepers have not been asked to sell their goods out on the pavement."
Kate Nicholls , the CEO of UK Hospitality, welcomed the easing of restrictions, but said those businesses that had opened were still operating at a significant loss.
She explained: “It is a hugely important psychological opening. The ability to get back to reconnect with communities, to reconnect with customers, to bring teams back, many of whom have been off on furlough for five or six months, is very welcome but it is not an economic success.
“The latest statistics suggest that only a quarter of licensed premises opened and for restaurants that figure is just 12 per cent.
“Even those that have opened and have traded well, have only been generating around 25 percent of normal revenues so that is well below break even. It is absolutely key that there is no wavering from the dates that have been announced to take us out of lockdown."
A spokesman for the British Beer and Pub Association said the next few months would determine whether businesses would survive or would have to close permanently.
“All restrictions have to be removed by 21 June. That is the date when we start our road back to profitability. For us we are holding on but we need the second half of this year to save the Great British Pub that is it in a nutshell."
Watch: Coronavirus peaks examined across the UK