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The law allowing English pubs to reopen comes into effect at 6am on Saturday.

Two hours later, a handful of Wetherspoons pubs will be among the first in the country to pour pints for anyone nursing a thirst at such an early hour.

“Super Saturday”, as it has been called, offers a rare glimmer of hope for an industry that has been staring into the abyss since the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Of England’s 37,500 pubs, about 28,000 are capable of opening under a physical distancing requirement of 1 metre, according to the British Beer and Pubs Association. About 60%, or 22,000, are planning to do so from this week, bringing an end to three-and-a-half long, dry months.

Physical distancing measures in place at BrewDog Tower Hill , London. Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

Yet the mood is not entirely merry. Nerves are jangling in the publican fraternity, as cautious optimism is tempered by anxiety about what lies in store for the next 24 hours and beyond.

“People are frightened of opening tomorrow,” says Dave Mountford, landlord of the Boat In at Cromford, Derbyshire, and long-time pubs campaigner. “They’re being forced into it because they can’t afford not to.”

Protective measures are already in place, such as staff wearing “beer goggles” and traffic light systems at the toilets.

Yet the remaining pitfalls are legion, from marauding drinkers causing trouble to shortages of beer, food and even security staff.

It’s been a long, dry three-and-a-half months for pubs. Photograph: Simon Newman/Reuters

At the top of the list of concerns is the capricious local interpretation of government guidelines.

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Experts fear overzealous police and council officials will attempt to shut down pubs on spurious grounds.

Sarah Clover of Kings Chambers, a leading barrister on licensing law, says: “Enforcers often do not understand the difference between guidance and law.

“The first licensees who put their head above the parapet are going to be descended upon by an army of agencies looking to see if they’re doing it wrong.

“You didn’t get people telling retailers like Primark they’d close them down because they don’t have the power to do that, but they do with licensees.

“They [publicans] are very nervous that enforcers are going to do this because they can and, in my opinion, some of them will.

Physical distancing measures in place at booths and banquettes at BrewDog Tower Hill in London. Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

“You’ll have rogue licensees and rogue enforcers and it’s a toxic mix that we’ll see played out big time over the weekend.”

Part of the problem, says Clover, is that the guidelines are ambiguous. For instance, they suggest playing music and live sports quietly so that people don’t shout over the noise, increasing the risk of spreading the virus.

At local level, says Clover, some police services have erroneously told publicans that they’re not allowed to show football.

Liz Hind, landlady of the Old Millwrights Arms in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, is delaying her reopening for 24 hours, preferring to wait for the more sedate Sunday dog-walkers’ crowd. But even she fears the tap on the shoulder from police, licensing officers or environmental health.

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“We asked for information three weeks ago but we only got the government guidelines 10 days ago,” she says.

Most bars will operate a non-cash payment system. Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

“I’ll do my best to interpret them but who knows if it will be good enough.

“We know they’ve got the power to come in and just close us down and we are expecting that they’ll use that in some cases, even though we’re all just trying to do our best in really difficult circumstances.”

Such trepidation is echoed across the industry but some fear more fundamental obstacles, such as shortages of beer and food.

“A lot of brewers only started brewing last week and certain products take a few weeks to brew,” says Joanne Cox-Brown, director of Night Time Economy Solutions. “There could be similar issues on food, too.”

In some areas, bouncers are said to be in short supply, a headache given the potentially heady mix of constrained capacity with nearly four months of pent-up rowdiness.

“We’re seeing security staff who aren’t keen on coming back after working in retail or other industries, where they’re paid the same money for more regular hours,” says Cox-Brown.

The prevailing mood in the pubs trade is that Saturday was a bad choice for unleashing England’s pubgoers.

James McAlister, manager at the Morning Star Bar and Restaurant in Belfast, who said it had been a great feeling to reopen the doors on Friday morning following lockdown. Photograph: Rebecca Black/PA

Indeed, some of the UK’s biggest pub companies have taken a wait-and-see approach. Greene King won’t be opening any of its 1,700 pubs on Saturday, waiting instead for the rather calmer Monday trade.

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London-based Young’s isn’t serving until later in July and Fuller’s is only opening 27 out of 215 this weekend, phasing them in after that.

But the flip side of anxiety about overcrowding on Saturday night is the concern that not enough people will return to make pubs viable.

Of 25,000 people surveyed by FindOutNow, 93% plan to give “Super Saturday” a miss.

But according to a survey by the Royal Society for Public Health, almost half of people plan to stay away well beyond that, for at least three months.

That’s why it’s so crucial for pubs that nothing goes seriously wrong this weekend that could imperil their longer-term survival by deterring customers or triggering renewed restrictions.

Stosie Madi, who will open the Parkers Arms near Clitheroe in Lancashire from Saturday, says: “I’ve reopened bars in West Africa after coups d’etat but nothing has been as challenging as this pandemic situation.

“It’s a path we’re beating for people opening the following week. It’s quite a historic moment.”