Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged caution as most legal restrictions on socializing in the UK have been lifted.
There are now no restrictions on the number of people who can meet or attend events; nightspots will reopen at midnight, and pubs and restaurants are not required to offer table service.
Face masks are recommended in some establishments but are not required by law.
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said government experts recommend vaccination only for some people under 18.
The prime minister, premier, and health minister are under self-imposed quarantine and there are warnings of a rise in cases at Covidien.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Zahawi defended the prime minister and minister’s move towards self-isolation after initially saying they would take part in a pilot project involving daily testing.
Some scientists predict that the rate of infection in the UK – currently around 50,000 people a day – could reach 200,000 a day by the end of the summer.
However, with more than 68% of adults in the UK fully vaccinated, models suggest that hospital admissions, serious illness and deaths caused by Covid-19 will be at a lower level than the previous peak.
In a video posted on Twitter on Sunday afternoon, the prime minister said it was the “right time” to move into the final phase of the UK’s roadmap to end the blockade.
“If we don’t do it now, we have to ask ourselves when we will.” The virus will have “the advantage of cold weather” in the autumn and winter.
“But we have to do it carefully. We have to remember that unfortunately this virus is still out there. Cases are increasing and we can see the extreme contagiousness of the Delta variant.”
Labor’s shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said the proposals to end the legal requirement to mask and work from home were “reckless” and warned of a “chaotic day” for the transport network as people return to their offices after months away.
“The last thing we want on a day like this is chaos and disruption to public health services,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
But Nadim Zahavi defended the reopening, saying 90% of those most at risk had been vaccinated and it was right for people to take “personal and corporate responsibility” for measures such as wearing masks.
“We are doing the right things to get as close to normal as possible as quickly as possible,” he told BBC Breakfast, saying the end of the school year would reduce the spread of the virus.
He also said he had received the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization on the vaccination of children aged 12 to 17 and would make a statement in Parliament on Monday afternoon.
He said the committee had recommended vaccination for children with diseases that make them susceptible to Covidien, for children living with susceptible people and for children approaching the age of 18.
With the loosening of restrictions in England, businesses such as nightclubs – and large events – are being encouraged to use the NHS Covid passport to check that people are fully vaccinated, have natural immunity to the infection or have recently tested negative.
At Fibre in Leeds, owner Terry George said a number of clients had not been vaccinated or had only been vaccinated once before. He added that the government does not provide a tool to scan vaccination status.
Although some clients at the club said they were a little nervous, most were happy,” he said. It was literally the best night of our lives. We have been waiting for this opportunity since we were 18. It was like life was suddenly back to normal,” said Molly, 20.
They just want to dance
The countdown began, midnight fell, the confetti cannons went off and the procession erupted in cheers and screams of joy.
Then the doors open and hundreds of people enter the Fibre, a nightclub in the heart of Leeds. No negative test certificate required here, no Covid pass, just a selection of hand sanitizers at the door.
Most headed straight for the dance floor, arms in the air, singing along to the first song carefully chosen by the DJ: “Ultra Nate’s Free”.
No one was wearing a mask and it seemed that everything was back to normal. No one wanted to talk about the rise in cases or the risks of the coronavirus: they just wanted to dance. It was the first time they had been able to dance in 16 months.
The UK directive discouraging travel to countries on the yellow list was also lifted. Adults who have been fully vaccinated in the UK will not have to undergo self-testing for 10 days after visiting these countries, with the exception of people returning to England, Scotland or Wales from France due to concerns about the spread of the beta variant of the virus there.
When the legal requirement to wear masks expired, posters at Manchester Piccadilly station urged travelers to continue wearing masks, but several people refused.
Mark Dawson, on his way to work in Scunthorpe, said”. I will do what the government tells me to do, but if they tell me I don’t have to do it, I won’t do it”.
At Farringdon station in central London, about three quarters of the people were wearing masks.
Passengers confused by mask rule
Confusion was the word on almost everyone’s lips during the first rush hour journey after the rule change.
About three quarters of people were wearing masks, but although they are mandatory on TfL trains, they were not on Thameslink trains calling at the station.
The indications change as passengers travel the short distance along the platform, meaning they can take off or put on their masks depending on which direction they are travelling.
Christopher McCready, who lives in Scotland but works in London, said he, like many others, was asking for more clarity despite having contracted the virus a month earlier.
“The same rules should apply to the whole island,” he said.