Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

As U.K. Brings Coronavirus Infection Rate Down, Pubs Cautiously Reopen


Across England today, thousands of pubs are reopening as the United Kingdom continues to emerge from the coronavirus lockdown.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Unintelligible).



PFEIFFER: Hairdressers and barbers are also getting back to work. And NPR's Frank Langfitt has been making the rounds of pubs in the town where he lives outside of London.

Hi, Frank.


PFEIFFER: And, Frank, I'm so sorry you were given this very difficult assignment on a weekend of going to a pub and maybe having to drink some pints while you're there.

LANGFITT: I feel like I'm helping to liberate British pubs...

PFEIFFER: (Laughter).

LANGFITT: ...On American Independence Day.

PFEIFFER: Would you tell us where you are and what the crowds look like?

LANGFITT: Yes. Well, I'm at the Flintgate pub. It is in Weybridge, about 16 miles outside of London. And basically, the sound you're hearing (laughter) - nobody's heard this in a pub for the last three, 3 1/2 months because they've all been closed. So you have lots of friends, dozens of people here coming out to the beer garden, which the pub has expanded to take advantage of the space - also, people inside at tables spaced apart.

I was talking to three buddies just a moment ago, and here's how they describe what it's like being out now.

TOM UPSTELL: This is great. I mean, you know, it's been a long time, so glad to be back in the pub.

CHRIS PHILLIPS: It's been a - it's nice having a pint, yeah.

DANIEL NATOLI: Poured from a draught rather than a bottle is always a pleasure.

LANGFITT: That was Tom Upstell (ph) - he's a driver with TV and movies - Chris Phillips (ph) - he's in computers - and Daniel Natoli (ph). He's an executive relocation person.

PFEIFFER: You know, Frank, as I'm hearing that chatter in the background, it's this refreshing sound of normalcy, right?


PFEIFFER: It's great to hear. On the other hand, you know, what is the COVID-19 situation in the U.K. now? And how are these pubs making sure they don't become vehicles for the virus?

LANGFITT: Yeah. So it's better than it was. You know, the United Kingdom had a terrible time with this and was the worst country hit in Europe ultimately. Now I think the infection rate is down to about 500 a day. About 137 were registered yesterday who had died most - you know, in the last day or so.

And what pubs are doing is they're following a lot of the government rules. There's a lot of social distancing. People are not allowed to go up to the bar. They're ordering through apps, which people are struggling a bit with. And I've also seen a lot of people here - some of the servers are - they're wearing masks. They're wiping down the tables.

I was talking to a guy named Hidde Hartog. He's The Flintgate's general manager, and this is what he said this morning before everybody poured in.

HIDDE HARTOG: We really sincerely try to do our best that it won't spread, but it's hard. So what can you do? You can only wash your hands and clean the toilets and clean the tables and stop it from spreading. It's one sneeze away.

PFEIFFER: Frank, are all the pubs in town open? Or are some choosing to remain closed as a precaution?

LANGFITT: Yeah, some are. In fact, at least one isn't opening until August. And I went to another pub today, and they were a jumble of nerves. And, of course, no pub wants to become known as a hotspot and actually, you know, create another problem that causes a shutdown of a community.

PFEIFFER: Right. And, Frank, you obviously know that pubs are such a part of the identity of the U.K., of Great Britain, of London. But as you've reported, many have closed in recent years. How important is it both sort of culturally and economically that this reopening goes smoothly?

LANGFITT: It's crucial. I've been watching pubs close for the last few years, and they are under a lot - they were under a lot of economic stress before this happened. Now they've been out of commission for a long time. And this is going to be very important for their confidence.

Also, those three guys I was talking to earlier - they were saying, you know, right now, you have all this extra beer garden space here at The Flintgate, for instance. And so in the summer, this works. But what happens when we get into the winter, and everybody is packed inside, and there's an outbreak?

And so the real concern is that even if the next two or three months go well, pubs could actually be forced to shut down. And the government may not be able to continue - probably can't continue to pay people's salaries to kind of keep these places afloat.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt just outside London.

Frank, enjoy your pint - or pints.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Sacha.

(SOUNDBITE OF KERO ONE'S "MY STORY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.