London: Beyond the Pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 15,000 Londoners and shaken the foundations that make Britain’s capital one of the world’s great cities. Museums, shopping centers, restaurants, theaters, stadiums, nightclubs and pubs have been shuttered for most of the past 12 months during three successive lockdowns. The financial district’s office towers are gleaming shells, the streets below eerily empty. The gap between rich and poor, who live side-by-side in this diverse patchwork of a city, has grown wider.
As Britain’s fast-moving mass vaccination campaign holds the promise of reopening, The Associated Press looks at the pandemic’s impact on London’s people and institutions -- so often resilient in the past -- and asks what the future might hold.
By Jill Lawless | March 24, 2021
Even as many of its famous institutions closed during the coronavirus pandemic for most of the past 12 months, London’s Underground kept running through three successive lockdowns. Nicknamed the Tube, its staff from cleaners to train drivers take pride in maintaining a system that keeps London’s heart beating. But with ridership and ticket revenue a small fraction of pre-pandemic levels, the Underground faces one of the biggest crises since it opened in 1863. Before the nationwide lockdown a year ago, about 5 million journeys a day were taken on the Tube. Ridership plunged to just 4% of that early in the outbreak and now carries about a fourth of that.
By Sylvia Hui | March 31, 2021
The pandemic has dealt a blow to London’s tourism industry, which employs one in seven of the capital’s workers. Even top attractions like the Tower of London have struggled as COVID-19 curtailed international tourism. After enduring three national lockdowns, attractions and hospitality businesses in London are making tentative plans to reopen from mid-May. But deep uncertainty about the coronavirus remains. With quarantine requirements and travel restrictions still in place everywhere and Europe battling a new surge of infections, many are bracing for another bleak year. Industry experts are confident tourists will return eventually, but a big question mark is whether business travel will ever be the same again.
By Sylvia Hui | April 7, 2021
When the pandemic struck, about 540,000 workers vanished from London’s financial hub almost overnight. The area known as “the City” became a ghost town as many people began working from home. A year on, most haven’t returned to the business hub. While many people believe that post-pandemic workflow will become the new normal, skyscrapers are still rising, and city planners say they aren’t worried about empty office buildings. Rather, they say the uncertainties and changes are just a catalyst for the reinvention of one of the world’s top financial centers. A January report from the mayor’s office predicted that while companies won’t abandon the capital, many will need to improve their office space to encourage employees to return.
By Jill Lawless | April 23, 2021
The coronavirus pandemic has devastated British theater, a world-renowned cultural export and major economic force. The theaters in London’s West End shut even before the U.K.’s first lockdown began in March 2020, and they have remained closed for most of the past 13 months. They are now preparing to welcome audiences back. Some theaters are reopening once the government allows indoor venues to admit limited audiences on May 17. But with social distancing restrictions, almost no foreign tourists and uncertainty about whether the virus will surge again, the West End and the thousands of people who work in the storied theater district face deep uncertainty.
By Jill Lawless | April 30, 2021
Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic have hit London in a perfect storm. In 2021, the city has fewer people, fewer businesses, starker divisions and tougher choices than anyone could have expected. On May 6, Londoners will elect a mayor, whose performance will help determine whether this is a period of decline for Europe’s biggest city — or a chance to do things better. Mayor Sadiq Khan of the Labour Party, who is favored to win re-election, says his top priority is preserving jobs threatened by the economic blow of the pandemic. Rival Shaun Bailey of the Conservatives says his top priority is reducing crime. Whoever wins will face the challenge of leading London’s fight back from its biggest shock for generations.
By Jill Lawless | May 18, 2021
The east London district of Ilford sits in an area dubbed the “COVID triangle,” three outer London boroughs that have had some of Britain’s highest coronavirus infection rates. At nearby King George Hospital, a clinic has been set up to help patients suffering months after they were infected with COVID-19. It’s one of 83 “long COVID” clinics in England where medics and patients are grappling with the enduring effects of the virus. For taxi driver Gary Miller, recovery is agonisingly slow. He says there are times “I feel like I’m taking one step forward, and then all of a sudden — bang — I’m ill again and I take two steps back.”
By Danica Kirka | June 1, 2021
Schools across Britain are racing to offset the disruption caused by COVID-19, which has hit kids from low-income and ethnic minority families the hardest. One parent, Nik Geraj, says he struggled to help his daughter study during coronavirus lockdowns that shut her school for more than four months over the past year. Before the pandemic, 6-year-old Mia was doing well. But she had a hard time during lockdown, missing her friends and teachers at Holy Family Catholic Primary in southeast London. Geraj, a former refugee from Albania, and his wife, who comes from Vietnam, weren’t able to fill the gaps. He says his daughter “really missed out.” Students across England lost an average of 115 days of in-school instruction to the pandemic.