Newport was buzzing on Monday as lockdown restrictions lifted further and people headed to the cafes and pubs for a day punters dubbed “just like Christmas”.
“You can’t beat this,” said 77-year-old Alan McIntyre while sharing a pint with friends - father and son Sam and Lyndon Jones - at Hogarths for the first time since December 19.
Wales has now moved to alert level two, meaning a group of up to six people from six separate households (excluding children under 11) can meet indoors in a hospitality setting.
Other rule changes include being able to head to the cinema, a museum, or bowling.
“We’ve got our freedom back haven’t we,” Alan said. "Sam and I are back out on the pull and it feels fantastic.
“It’s an important day. We all live on our own. I’ve only got the dog and she doesn’t say much.
“You get depressed spending 24 hours a day like that.
“Sam (92) and I are knocking on now. We’ve already wasted a year of our lives in this pandemic, and we can’t waste another. It’s great to be back together.”
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Lyndon said another step to normality is just as important for him mentally as his physical health.
“I didn’t get myself into a great position physically in the last lockdown,” he said. “We couldn’t come to the pub so I started drinking quite a lot at home, which is not something I’ve ever really done.
“I put a lot of weight on and it wasn’t a nice time at all. The walls just seemed to close in.”
On the threat of a new Indian variant and a third wave, Alan said it would be a “travesty” if Wales took a step back in its Covid recovery.
Sam added: “It’s on all of us to make sure that doesn’t happen. I watched the [FA] cup final on Saturday and there were thousands of people there not wearing masks. I do find that worrying.”
In Kingsway Centre Boswells Café was bustling, and manager Ven Sabadach said he was surprised by a “really strong” turnout for the first morning back open indoors.
“It is nice to see that people aren’t reluctant to come out and support us,” he said. “The most important thing for us now is we are able to stay open with fewer interruptions.”
On Monday Professor Sir Mark Walport, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned that the pandemic is “at a perilous moment” and said it will be “extremely important” to keep a close eye on the numbers over the next few weeks.
He said he will be staying outdoors as much as possible, despite the lifting of restrictions.
Responding, Ven said: “I think it depends on the person. If an individual is high risk then maybe that advice would be good to follow.
“But we must recognise where our economy is now. For the vast majority of the population not at risk of death [if they caught Covid], I think the advice to not come into our café, for example, is over the top.”
He said it had been difficult to prepare for a fuller reopening due to confusion over the track and trace system.
“Again, we have had confusion,” he explained. “I am not even convinced the Covid rules enforcement officers understand what we’re expected to do.
“They told me using the NHS tracing app was not effective enough and now every customer has to sign a form. But that isn't the case in England and I don't think many cafés in Wales are doing that."
For Orianne Citrini and Elaine Sharp at Kettle Café on Commercial Street, which had customers waiting outside when they opened at 10am, Monday signalled an opportunity for a “new beginning”.
"We are so pleased customers feel safe enough to come back to the city centre,” Elaine said.
“It’s been a difficult few months. We didn’t open for takeaways because footfall at this end of town wasn’t good.”
Orianne joined the coffee shop in February last year, and has worked for just six months in that time.
“There are no positives to come from the last year for us,” she said. “We’ve made huge losses.
“Our customer base is older generally, and we know a lot of them decided they weren’t going to come to Newport at all during the lockdown.
“But most of them will have had their second jab by now and they’re coming back. It’s lovely to see.”
Owner of The Pot Café in Newport Arcade Angela Roberts, who “hadn’t had a day off for 15 years” prior to the café being shut by the pandemic last spring, said for the first time in years she had a queue on Monday morning.
“I must admit I was very nervous and apprehensive about whether people would come back, and whether I could still do the job after so long away,” she said.
“It’s not an easy task getting all these breakfasts out, and I forgot what it was like when everyone is in here watching you work - it feels a bit strange.
“I just need to get my rhythm back.
“It was so encouraging to see so many people here this morning. It really hasn’t happened here for years.
“It’s exciting and I hope it’s a sign of things to come.”