Police, alcohol campaigners and doctors have expressed concerns about pubs reopening on Saturday while the NHS is still dealing with the coronavirus crisis.
Some publicans on Tyneside have decided not to open up this weekend, saying they are not yet ready to operate safely.
It is feared there could be a repeat of booze-fuelled disorder, following unsavoury scenes in recent weeks on the nation’s beaches.
And experts have warned that hospital A&E departments will not be able to deal with a flood of alcohol-related injuries like they were pre-lockdown.
Dr James Crosbie, NHS clinical lead for alcohol in the North East of England, said: “Like lots of doctors I’m anxious about what problems the opening of pubs on Saturday might bring.
“But this is more than just about one day.”
The GP and consultant gastroenterologist said: “The NHS is not in the same place as it was prior to lockdown. Covid-19 precautions mean capacity in the system is reduced at a time when we need to be prepared to both deal with any new cases of the virus and also plan to reduce the backlog of routine cases that have built up.
“We need a serious debate about the role alcohol plays in society because the NHS can’t afford to go back to the bad old days when weekends in A&E were dominated by alcohol cases and when one in five hospital beds were taken up by patients who drink at risky levels.”
The organisation Balance North East campaigns to get people to drink less and advocates a minimum price per unit.
Director Colin Shevills said: “It is coming to something when we prioritise opening our pubs before we open schools.
“All too often it is seen as ‘normal’ for our police, our paramedics and our casualty wards to have to pick up the pieces from intoxication and from alcohol-related violence.
“This is a situation we just cannot allow to continue.”
Campaigner Maxine Thompson-Curl set up a charity after her son Kristian, 19, was killed in a one-punch attack on a night out.
She said: “We are concerned about the reopening of pubs at the weekend.
“We are concerned about the effects of alcohol and the consequences of drinking too much, as always, but also we are deeply anxious about the effects on our already struggling NHS, which every one of us have helped for three months by keeping ourselves safe.
“My question is why spoil that? We’d urge people to be sensible, think smart and keep safe.”
Chief Inspector Neal Bickford, of Durham Police, said: “We are really pleased to see the pubs and bars reopening but we would urge people to act responsibly when the restrictions are lifted.
“Coronavirus remains a real risk to public health and we have seen some very irresponsible behaviour nationally in terms of mass gatherings and anti-social behaviour, so we strongly echo Balance in their wish to avoid overburdening the emergency services at this time.”
Councillor Katrina Wood, vice chairman of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “It is up to individuals and businesses to make sure they act responsibly and safely, including maintaining social distancing.
“Councils will be working with police, businesses and other partners to ensure existing and new requirements are complied with, and people are able to enjoy a drink or a meal safely.”