To the sound of Lady Gaga’s, queer nightclubs in England finally unfastened from a year-long lockdown – all amid soaring caseloads and warnings from officials.
Ahead of what the tabloids dubbed “Freedom Day”, on Sunday evening (18 July) hundreds queued for hours outside London’s famous gay club Heaven as they geared up for something no Brit has been legally allowed to do since March 2020 – get up and dance in a nightclub.
As part of the government’s four-step roadmap out of lockdown, nightlife finally returned as both social distancing and capacity limits were completely scrapped across England.
Some 600 people came through Heaven’s front doors for a novel evening where, until the clock struck midnight, club-goers had to stay sat down.
They had spent most of the evening enjoying a drink while socially distanced – and all had been asked beforehand to take a voluntary lateral flow test.
But when a countdown clock projected onto the main stage struck midnight, the tables and chairs were removed by bar staffers and people flooded onto the floor.
Heaven Nightclub in London played “Rain On Me” as soon as it hit midnight, as it is officially “freedom day” from covid restrictions in England pic.twitter.com/DsDs2FXu0q
— gaga ♡ (@thegagasource_) July 18, 2021
— Richard Cutmore (@cutmore) July 19, 2021
— Jeremy Joseph G-A-Y (@JeremyJoseph) July 18, 2021
People queuing at nightclub in Charing cross, London right now waiting for restrictions to lift at midnight so they can go clubbing pic.twitter.com/SgR5rZn1jb
— Edwin (@EdwinVcity) July 19, 2021
The night was hosted by RuPaul’s Drag Race UK star Tia Kofi, who said, according to the i newspaper, moments before midnight: “Please, everyone, remain socially distanced and remember to Free Britney.”
Joseph reportedly added: “Let’s imagine it’s the New Year’s Eve we never head.
“This isn’t the end of the pandemic, but it’s the next step. Be careful, let’s look after each other, and hopefully get back to normality.”
LGBT+ nightclubs open at last – while cases continue to rise
The reopening, which is expected to have raised more than £1,000 for Macmillan Cancer from cover charges, comes amid a concerning new chapter in the country’s coronavirus pandemic.
An average of almost 45,000 cases of COVID-19 has been reported in the past week, a troubling increase of 83 per cent from the average just two weeks ago.
Deaths, meanwhile, have seen a 141 per cent spike and around 500,000 people in the past week have been asked by the NHS test-and-trace app to self-isolate.
“I don’t think we should underestimate the fact that we could get into trouble again surprisingly fast,” chief medical officer Chris Whitty said during an online seminar last week, the BBC reported.
“I think saying the numbers in hospital are low now, that does not mean the numbers will be low in hospital in five, six, seven, eight weeks’ time.
“They could actually be really quite serious.”
Despite these alarming numbers and worries from medical officials, Britain nevertheless went ahead with lifting its final set of restrictions, even though polling suggests most Britons want COVID restrictions to remain.
But while healthcare workers and officials prepare for another headache, the nightlife industry has breathed a sigh of relief.
Heaven, one of the capital’s most well-known queer nightclubs and part of the wider G-A-Y bar family-owned by Jeremy Joseph, had been especially battered by the repeated lockdowns, with more than £1 million in bills, including rent, piling up across the last year.
Many of the nation’s nightclubs did not survive the three lockdowns and the lingering restrictions that followed them – one in eight venues have closed down for good, experts told Bloomberg.
“It finally happened,” wrote Richard Cutmore, a disc jockey who played at Heaven last night, on Instagram.
“We danced again.”