Eager shoppers queued from before dawn as stores in England finally reopened after the month-long lockdown.
Crowds flocked to get Christmas presents or to bag a bargain, with many chains slashing prices.
Long lines formed outside fast fashion giant Primark, flat pack chain IKEA and JD Sports.
Meanwhile, bargain hunters converged on Debenhams after the closure of the historic department store chain were confirmed on Tuesday, putting 12,000 jobs at risk.
Shoppers were expected to spend £1.5billion today on what was dubbed Welcome Back Wednesday, or Wild Wednesday.
Nearly 363,000 non-essential shops in England were allowed to reopen today, along with 5,414 car showrooms and 4,300 betting shops, according to property experts Altus Group.
The coming days, including Saturday, are expected to remain busy.
Some stores are opening late, in part to try reassure those worried about social distancing to shop at quieter times.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said:“The run up to Christmas is a vital time for retailers, with one in every eight pounds spent in December.
“Following four weeks of closure, many retailers are extending opening hours, offering discounts, and looking at other ways to create an enjoyable shopping experience and bring back customers.”
While many businesses breathed a sigh a relief at yesterday’s reopening, those in the hammered hospitality sector face ongoing misery because of heavy restrictions in Tiers 2 and 3.
The British Beer and Pub Association said just 27% of pubs - 12,600 – would try and open.
The Mirror's Matthew Young visited Oxford Street in the UK capital and found it once again busy.
Performers dressed as elves danced outside the famous Hamleys toy store, brass bands played in the street and retailers welcomed back much-needed custom.
Queues formed outside Primark for its 7am opening while Debenhams, which is at risk of collapse, proved popular with shoppers.
Leaving Debenhams after a spot of Christmas shopping John Sparrow, 31, said: “It’s good to be back out. I’d far rather be doing this than shopping online.
“I heard about Debenhams having difficulty so thought it would be a good place to come.”
While Cabbie John Edwards, 50, beamed: “It’s great to see London busy again - it’s how it should be.
“I’ve taken an hour off work to come and get some bits.
“It’s been a difficult year but it’s Christmas and I’ve still got to get something for the wife.”
The capital yesterday returned to Tier 2 restrictions allowing “non-essential” retailers to open as well as restaurants and pubs that serve drinks with a “substantial meal”.
Shopper Diana Davey, 72, from London, said: “It’s fantastic, I couldn’t wait for today.
“There’s nothing that beats going to the high street.
“I’ve done a bit of online shopping but it doesn’t compare at all.
“It’s the whole experience for me. This area needs to be a destination place to shop as you get a good experience all round.
“It’s also just great to get out and get some fresh air after lockdown.”
Laura-Jayne Hunter, 34, from London, said: “It’s actually more enjoyable than it normally would be as it’s not too busy so you can get around more easily.
“I try to avoid online shopping so it’s great for me that it’s reopened and it’s nice to see people out and making the most of it.”
Sinead Kealy, 24, and Siobhan McDermott, 23, shopped in Debenhams.
Sinead said: “We’re just excited to be out of the house.
“I don’t think it’s that busy but we’ve come out quite early, but it’s being really well run everywhere we’ve been.”
Mirror man Paul Byrne found scotch eggs and pints on the menu in the Vernon Arms pub in Liverpool today, as the city’s bars opened their doors for the first time in seven weeks.
And I can confirm the tasty hard-boiled egg, surrounded by sausage meat and covered in breadcrumbs, placed on a bed of lettuce, with tomatoes, cucumber and pickle, was most definitely a substantial meal - and a snip at just £3.
Landlord James Monaghan, 58, was also serving up chips with either pigs in blankets and pork pies, or spinach feta goujons and camembert bites, both with salad.
The historic pub in the city’s commercial district has larger main meals on offer but with most of its office clientele now working from home, he is hoping the lighter snacks will entice drinkers through his doors.
Liverpool is now under Tier 2 Covid restrictions, which means only pubs serving substantial meals can operate.
Mr Monaghan, who runs the Vernon with his wife Barbara, 60, and his sons Jonathan, 29 and Joseph, 20, said the past eight months had been a huge “financial struggle”.
He is hoping for less difficult times ahead but added: “We are reopening but we don’t expect to make any profit. We just want to keep it going. People have got to get out just for their own mental health.
“I’m going to give a few weeks to see if we are viable, even if we are just breaking even, that will do. We have just got to try our best and see how we get on.”
The pub opened at 12 noon yesterday (WED) and Catherine and Peter McNulty, both nurses, were first through the door.
Community nurse Peter, 53, said: “I saw on Facebook he was opening and I could not sleep all night. I was like a child at Christmas, I was that excited.”
Peter, who tucked into a pork pie and chips with his pint, said: “I’m off work today. I work very hard and I said to Cathy, ‘we are going to the Vernon’.”
And he added: “The pub is about socialising and meeting people.”
Hospital staff nurse Catherine, 59, who had a cup of coffee with a jacket potato, was also glad to be back but laughed: “I was not as excited as my husband!”
Tony Kelly, 77, enjoyed a glass of shiraz with “a very nice camembert with a nice salad and two very fresh pieces of bread.”
He admitted he would not normally have a meal with his afternoon tipple during his twice weekly visits to the pub, but said: “I want to abide by the rules.”
Mr Kelly said the closure during the recent lockdown had “taken a big chunk out of my life.”
“I missed the pub, the staff and the company” he said.
“I hope there are no more lockdowns. It is good news the pub has reopened but the greatest news is the vaccine, which I am looking forward to having.”
Paul Morris, 66, who was tucking into a ham sandwich and chips, is teetotal, but enjoys the company of other drinkers in his local.
“The pub is the hub” he said.
In the streets outside, the city’s shops had also all re-opened.
And Lindsey Billinge, 58, and her husband Donald Satterthwaite, 60, from Bootle, were thrilled.
“It is so nice to have a little bit of normality” said Lindsey.
“We have been shopping and now we are going to have lunch. It’s lovely.”
Care home nurse Louise Lloyd, 50, from Warrington, had travelled into the city with her daughter Elise Lloyd, 23, and her grandchildren, Sophia, three, and four month old Frankie.
Louise also met her father Terry Gardner, 76, from Liverpool, for their first day out together in weeks.
“She was on the phone first thing this morning to say she was coming over” laughed Terry.
Louise said she had no fears about venturing into a busy city centre.
“I’m not nervous at all. Everythig that can be done is being done. The shops are doing everything they can and everyone is keepng their distance.”
Martin Fricker was in the UK's second largest city and spoke to Samantha Poole, whose market stall in the city centre is usually crammed with Christmas gifts and goodies by this time.
But 2020 is different.
For this festive period she is trying to make ends meet by selling cut-price Covid-19 masks and hand sanitiser.
As shoppers returned to the city for the first time in a month today, Samantha could only breathe a small sigh of relief.
The city remains in Tier 3, so pubs, restaurants, cafes and coffee shops remain takeaway only.
“It’s been an awful year for us,” Samantha, 54, told the Mirror. “Footfall has been down 70%. It’s all-but killed us.
“We rely on office workers and shoppers, and they’ve pretty much vanished for most of the year.
“Even now, with people coming back into the city centre, trade is way down.
People are doing their shopping online.”
As she spoke to us, just yards away a queue of people lined up outside the world’s biggest Primark.
The store opened at 7am, with dozens of customers already waiting at the doors to get their shopping fix.
Susan Cowan, 57, of Bartley Green, Birmingham, said: “I just wanted to get a few things and be outside again.
“I’m a carer in a nursing home so I know all about Covid, but I’m not worried about being in shops.”
The nearby H&M store was equally busy, with a mixture of teens, OAPs and office workers going through its doors.
Tom Adderley, 70, and his wife Valerie, 68, were sat on a bench outside M&S tucking into Greggs sausage rolls.
The couple had already picked up a collection of new DVDs from HMV to get them through what remains of lockdown.
Valerie, of Rubery, Birmingham, said: “We got the bus in and were shocked how many people didn’t have masks on.
“But it’s nice to be back after lockdown and getting our DVDs. It’s just nice to get out of the house too.
“It’s just a shame we have to eat on a bench, but that’s because we’re in Tier 3 still.”
A council worker emptying bins told the Mirror: “I’m amazed it’s not busier to be honest.
“I reckon people are still a bit nervous. But wait till Saturday, I reckon the place will be heaving.”
Amanda Killelea found Manchester City Centre unusually quiet despite the shops being allowed to reopen - with most business owners blaming the Tier 3 restrictions.
Lauren Hutchinson, 35, owns eco-friendly shop Earth Friendly Rocker in Manchester’s Affleck’s Palace and says Tier 3 is worse for her business than a full lockdown in some respects.
She explains: “When we were shut my business running costs were lower, but now I am having to pay rent, staff, travel costs. But footfall into the city centre is lower as the bars and restaurants are shut so there isn’t the same incentive for people to come for a whole day out shopping experience.”
Michael Clay, 35, is head chef and owner at Elnecot restaurant. He has spent three years building up his business and says: “You can go shopping with your friends but you can’t go for lunch with them. It doesn’t make sense. A lot of places have gone under all ready. We just have to hope that people will want to eat out in January and February.”
At Crazy Pedro’s pizza parlour, Nick Coupland had mixed feelings - their Liverpool site was able to reopen under Tier 2, while their Manchester remains takeaway only. “Our Liverpool site is heaving which is frustrating as we know we would have been the same here too. We can only hope that we move into Tier 2 in time for Christmas.”
Ellie Bebbington, 26, at beauty salon Doll Parts said: “We do nails and beauty here so obviously December would be our busiest month. But because bars and restaurants are shut people aren’t going out so we have no make-up clients booked in.”
Chris Herbert’s bar and restaurant The Hive in Stretford only opened its doors for the first time two days before the first lockdown, so has never operated without restrictions. “It has just been one punch in the face after another,” he says. “We are trying to be optimistic and hope that we will be able to open for Christmas - we already have 70 bookings for Christmas Day. Who knows what will happen?”
At the luxury Lowry Hotel, general manager Adrian Ellis says he has lost his busiest two weeks of the year due to Tier 3 restrictions.
He explains: “Normally we would have the Christmas markets in Manchester now, it would be Christmas party season, we would have a lot of guests, people dining in the restaurant and dating in the bar. But now we an only have business clients and we are shutting the hotel in our quietest periods.
“We can only hope the tightest restrictions are lifted in time for Christmas.”
Jeremy Armstrong was in Newcastle and found eager shoppers queueing up at dawn in the hunt for post lockdown bargains.
The Mirror captured a near empty Northumberland Street in Newcastle city centre just after 11am on Tuesday, the last day of the nationwide lockdown.
At the same time today, with non-essential shops and stores open again, it was thronged with crowds.
A snaking queue was outside its branch of Primark at 8am.
They were the first of many as the UK's High Streets enjoyed a welcome lift.
Primark early bird Christine Ramsen said: "I'm here for matching Christmas pyjamas for the family. I wanted to make sure they've got the stock and the sizes I need.
"I've been looking online but a lot of places have sold out, and since Primark don't sell online they should still have the stock."
Daniel Nixon, 36, waiting at 7am before work, said: "I thought it would be dead at this time."
Chris Geaves, chief executive of Sovereign Centros, which runs the Metrocentre across the Tyne in Gateshead, said the pandemic was likely to trigger a shopping revolution in the UK.
“There are going to be a lot of towns where holes are going to appear and you are going to see alternative uses going into them," he said.
"The high street in some smaller towns will become more local. You are also going to see some of the online retailers taking up space."
The collapse of Debenhams is part of that change, he added."It is very sad to see but these are businesses that have been going bust for a while," he said.
Prof Lawrence Bellamy, of the Faculty of Business, Law and Tourism at the University of Sunderland, said the pandemic accelerated the shift to online for many consumers.
He added: “Restrictions on retail access has been the final straw for a number of firms, generally doing a roaring trade with the run up to Christmas, a make or break time."
The transformation of the High St in Stockton-on-Tees, Co Durham has been hailed as a vision for the future after the loss of retail giants there including M&S.
They are knocking down a shopping centre but investing in moving those retailers and jobs back onto the High Street. Jason Maxwell, of its Business Improvement District, said 'new starters' were given premises to build trade without committing to a long-term lease.
"It is an incubator hub. The independent business network is really important," he said.
Adam Aspinall was in Cornwall, and found fears of a 'Wild Wednesday' rush for a pint did not materialise in the South West county.
Pubs in Britain's only mainland tier one area opened their doors early to welcome back local residents who could enjoy a pint without needing to order a "substantial meal."
Police announced earlier this week that specialist Covid patrols were being brought in to make sure people were not flocking to Cornwall from higher risk areas.
But fears of an early influx of visitors from across the border have so far proved unfounded.
By lunchtime, many pubs were still empty and extra tables that had been laid out remained unused.
Jon Newton, general manager from Five Degrees West in Falmouth said: “It’s not been busy yet - we had one in at 9am for a pint but that’s been about it.
“I suppose it will come later, when everyone finishes work.”
At the Chainlocker, in Falmouth, a pub run by St Austell Brewery, all the tables were bare except three that were occupied by locals.
A spokesperson said: “We haven’t had many in, we’ve got a table by the fire and a local on another table - but that’s about it."
Malcolm Bell of Visit Cornwall said the increase in numbers could be more of an issue for the evening trade.
He said: "The biggest challenge for pubs is where people can walk across the boundary with Devon, but that will come in the evening."
In Padstow one pub even announsed it has decided to remain closed until 2021 due to safety concerns.
Staff at the Golden Lion pub explained that they did not want to encourage unnecessary travel which could potentially risk spreading the coronavirus.
The Golden Lion team announced the news on its Facebook page and said: "After much thought and deliberation we have as a team decided that we will stay closed until the new year. We have had many things to consider and this decision hasn't been made lightly, however we feel we are doing what's right, not only for ours and our staff's welfare but also for our community."