WARSAW (Reuters) - Champagne corks popped at the stroke of midnight on Friday as bars and restaurants in Poland opened their outdoor terraces for the first time in over six months and many Poles went out to celebrate.
Bars and restaurants can now offer outdoor service, with indoor service due to reopen with limited capacity on May 28. Since October, they have been able to serve only take-away food.
Additionally, from Saturday Poles are no longer required to wear masks outside in places where they can observe social distancing.
"We've been closed for so long, over 200 days, and it was very stressful and exhausting for different reasons, we didn't know if we could survive at all," said Zuzia Mockallo, 34, co-owner of Bar Studio, located in the capital's landmark building, the Palace of Culture and Science.
"I really feel that the emotions are a bit comparable to the New Year, where everyone has huge expectations of the old year ending and a new opening ... We are very happy and a little excited, a little nervous, but very emotional."
New coronavirus cases in Poland dropped sharply during April and the government began easing restrictions this month.
The Koszyki shopping centre in central Warsaw, where one of the city's most popular cluster of bars is located, installed a clock counting down to midnight. Paweł Slupski, the centre's PR manager, said the mood was "very much like New Year's Eve".
"Life's just going back to normal," said Ania Pietrzak, a 37-year-old stylist and costume designer who was one of Bar Studio's first customers, describing how she missed the freedom to go out and have a drink or just light a cigarette without fear of being fined for not wearing a mask.
On Friday Poland had 3,288 new coronavirus cases compared to a high of 35,251 on April 1. Some 35.7% of adult Poles have received at least one dose of vaccine and 13.6% are fully vaccinated, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
(Reporting by Kuba Stezycki; Writing by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Frances Kerry)