Here’s what London is like right now
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I’ve been in London for four days now, and as far as I can tell, everything is open and on its way back to a pre-pandemic sense of normalcy.
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Masks are no longer required, excluding on public transit, and I’ve seen few people wearing them on the street and in most public places, including shops, restaurants, pubs, etc.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted the majority of the United Kingdom’s COVID-19 restrictions on July 19, deemed “Freedom Day,” when the government anticipated that two-thirds of adults would be fully vaccinated and that every adult would have been offered one dose. As of Aug. 3, 57% of the U.K. population is fully vaccinated.
“The majority of legal restrictions will be removed and people will be expected to protect themselves and others through informed choice,” the prime minister said in a press statement on July 12. “The government expects and recommends that face coverings are worn in crowded and enclosed spaces, such as public transport, when mixing with people you don’t normally meet.”
“Although there’s never a perfect time to take this step, making the move today gives us the best chance of success. We’re cautiously easing restrictions when we have the natural firebreak of the school holidays and when the warmer weather gives us an advantage,” Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment Nadhim Zahawi said in a statement on July 19. “So we will move forward, with caution, drawing on the defenses we have built, as we set out in our five-point plan two weeks ago.”
“London is fully open — nightclubs, bars, pubs, museums, theaters, you name it,” says Emily McNutt, TPG global news editor. “For Londoners, it’s great news following months of strict restrictions and a full lockdown from December through April.”
The only remaining restriction in place appears to be on London public transit, where masks are still technically required. The government mask mandate on Transport for London was rescinded along with the existing regulations on July 19. Although it is still a requirement, violators are no longer threatened with fines or criminalization.
“Masks are still required on TfL, but I would say that about 70% of people wear them,” said McNutt. “Enforcement is pretty much nonexistent.”
Some customers are exempt from wearing masks, such as children under the age of 11, TfL employees and those for whom wearing a face covering would cause severe distress.
“We’ve made it still a requirement on TfL services, made it a condition of carriage,” a TfL spokesperson told me via phone. “If people refuse and aren’t wearing when they should be, they could either be refused entry or removed from service.”
Overall, the TfL spokesperson told me they’re seeing approximately 86% of riders following the mask mandate, which is now a condition of carriage.
Even at grocery stores, where masks are still recommended, I observed mask compliance to be about 50-50 among employees and shoppers across the three supermarkets I visited.
Beyond masks, I noticed social distancing reminders on the floor at Waitrose, pictured below.
At Tesco Express, a smaller grocery store, most people were wearing masks.
“Mask-wearing in supermarkets still seems very uncertain. Some supermarkets I have been in since Freedom Day arrived have had almost no staff or customers wearing masks, while others are the opposite,” said my colleague Ben Smithson, TPG UK’s senior editor in London. “I feel a bit strange wearing a mask in a supermarket where nobody else is, equally I feel a bit awkward if I’m the only one not wearing a mask. I imagine people will choose supermarkets based on their personal mask-wearing approach.”
Everywhere else, people appear to be making up for lost time, filling up bars, pubs, restaurants and nightclubs; all are open at full capacity, no masks required.
“Pubs are completely back to normal though, which is wonderful,” says Smithson. “For the first time during the pandemic, you can walk in without a reservation, go up to the bar and order a pint, which is a quintessentially British thing to do.”
In the two weeks since restrictions were lifted, the number of new COVID-19 cases has continued to fall, from 24,425 cases the week of July 24-30, down from 33,100 cases the previous week.
Featured photo by Caroline Tanner/The Points Guy.
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