Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are following separate but similar timetables, under which some restrictions eased on Monday in England will remain in place a while longer.
Despite chilly weather with occasional snow flurries, the moment was greeted with an enthusiasm born of more than a year of deprivation — as the once unimaginable notion of conscripting to government decree has become a way of life.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it “a major step forward in our road map to freedom.”
In the first weeks of the global health crisis — when the World Health Organization was still debating whether to call the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic — a new word entered the popular lexicon.
Lockdown in English. Le confinement in French. El confinamiento in Spanish. But first came fengcheng in China, literally meaning to lock down a city.
At the time, as images from ghostly streets of Wuhan, China, started to grab the world’s attention and it became clear that the virus respected no national borders, there was a debate about whether Western democracies could — or should — resort to such extreme measures.
As hospitals struggled to deal with a flood of patients and death tolls soared, the debate was overtaken by the reality that traditional methods of infectious disease control, like testing and contact tracing, had failed.
Britain, which held out longer than many of its European neighbors, entered its first national lockdown on March 26, 2020.
Since then, lockdown has come to mean many things to many people — dictated as often by individual circumstance and risk assessment as government decree.
While no country matched China’s draconian measures, liberal democracies have been engaged in a yearlong effort to balance economic, political and public health concerns.
Last spring, that meant that much of the world looked alike, with about four billion people — half of humanity — living under some form of stay-at-home order.
A year later, national approaches to the virus vary wildly. And no region has relied on lockdowns to the extent Europe has.
Although it is difficult to compare lockdowns, since the use of the word differs in different places, researchers at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government have developed a system ranking the rules’ stringency. They found that Britain has spent 175 days at its “maximum stringency level.”
“In this sense, we can say that the U.K. is globally unique in spending the longest period of time at a very high level of stringency,” said Thomas Hale, an associate professor of global public policy at Oxford.
Though there was still a winter chill in the air Monday morning, people in Britain flocked to stores and restaurants. After so many false dawns, there was a widespread hope that, this time, there would be no going back.