22:30 GMT03 March 2021
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    Since a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus was discovered in December last year, the United Kingdom has entered into its third national lockdown in an effort to curb the spread. Since the rules were first introduced last March, the country has seen increasing opposition to the restrictive measures.

    A guide has been shared on the Telegram messaging app advising UK businesses how to reopen during the pandemic by sidestepping coronavirus restrictions – all part of the so-called “The Great Reopening” campaign. While it’s unclear who is behind the plan, it’s been promoted via social media accounts associated with the National Alliance, a new political party opposing lockdowns.

    What is in the Guide?

    The guide is encouraging companies across the country to reopen on 30 January under a guise in order to be considered essential. 

    Hair salons, tattoo parlours, gyms, and clothing stores are being advised to disguise themselves as film or podcast studios by setting up tripods, microphones, lighting, as well as putting up decorations, while masquerading customers as actors, models, or guests for a show.  

    The guide tells businesses selling food and drinks to operate as “business meeting places” complete with “paper, pens, stationary, laptops, computers, and anything else creative."

    While presenting themselves as "essential spaces" and therefore permitted to open under current legislation, the guide explains that businesses won't be able to take payment, only donations.

    Great Reopening Guidance
    Great Reopening Guidance
    Great Reopening Canada Guidance
    Great Reopening Canada Guidance

    What is Discussed in the Chats Dedicated to 'The Great Reopening' Campaign?

    According to a Youtube channel called “The Great Reopening,” at least 89 group chats have been set up across the UK and Ireland, as well as two in the United States.

    Over 12,000 members are involved in the UK nationwide chatrooms, which include discussions on how to deal with the police, how to encourage business owners to open up, and how they can end restrictions permanently.

    A freelance journalist who wished to remain anonymous told Sputnik that threats were made against those who dared to report on the chatroom content. 

    The reporter said that threatening messages were circulated on several social media groups warning journalists against infiltrating the chatrooms, and that activists would come after anyone "personally" if they shared information.

    Great Reopening Journalist Threat
    Great Reopening Journalist Threat

    The journalist, who scoured the social media sites and group chats, said that he was worried about covering the story as a result.

    "It came up shortly after I entered the group so that felt a bit odd. I was concerned about what would happen if I reported on the event and the people in the group found out and identified me," he said.

    While the event has gathered rapid support in online spaces, polling suggests that they are not representative of the British public. According to a survey by YouGov earlier in January, 79 percent of the UK supported entering into a third national lockdown amid rising cases of coronavirus, an increase of 8 percent from a poll the previous month.

    How Did Authorities React?

    Commenting on the planned reopening event, Elly Roberts, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police, said that law enforcement is "aware of a protest being organised in central London on Saturday, 30 January."

    "Those organising such events, or planning on attending a public gathering are reminded that we're still in the middle of a global pandemic and to comply with Coronavirus regulations. Stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives."

    According to a report from Cornwall Live, the National Police Chiefs' Council warned that due to the UK being in the "most dangerous stage of this pandemic, each of us has a personal responsibility to do everything we can to stop the spread of coronavirus."

    "We will not hesitate to issue fines to those deliberately breaching the regulations with no regard for the safety of others," the council spokesperson said.

    Businesses that decide to proceed with the reopening on Saturday could face fines of up to £10,000, as could individuals involved in gatherings of over 30 people. Anyone outside without a valid reason could also be fined a minimum of £200.

    Last week, the owner of a makeshift nail salon in London was issued a £1,000 fine by police after she was discovered taking appointments at her home.

    The move is inspired by similar actions in France, where the owner of Poppies restaurant in Nice was arrested after inviting locals for lunch while restrictions remain in place.

    Following the reintroduction of harsh lockdown measures in November, the British government removed the protest exemption from social distancing laws. This followed a summer marked by widespread demonstrations by the Black Lives Matter movement and those defending statues of historic national figures.

    The Great Reopening initiative comes just days after the UK became the first European country to surpass 100,000 confirmed coronavirus-related deaths.

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