London has seen more than its share of crises. The 2,000-year old metropolis has endured an influenza pandemic, the Blitz and several financial meltdowns over just the past century.
Time and again, London has come roaring back, relying on a spirit of resilience and reinvention that is being summoned once more as the British capital seeks to recover from what may be this century’s greatest upheaval: the coronavirus pandemic.
The spread of the virus and efforts to contain it turned one of the world’s liveliest urban meccas into a virtual ghost town, driving millions of people out of the city’s center and its financial district, and bringing commerce to a sudden halt.
Nowhere was the standstill captured more acutely than in the mainstay of London city life: the Tube.
Underground journeys for the month of March tumbled 43% from the 106 million recorded in February, and plunged even further in April, during the height of lockdown, to just 5.7 million. Social distancing rules mean the Tube can only handle up to 15% of its normal traffic, according to London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan.
The fallout from lockdown has been severe. London’s economy is expected to contract nearly 17% this year, according to figures from the city government, a sharper drop than the 14% decline the Bank of England expects for the United Kingdom as a whole.
Companies in London are expected to shed some 460,000 jobs, or about 7% of the workforce, with manufacturing, construction, retail, and accommodation and food services the hardest hit. Employment is not expected to fully recover until 2022.
With transportation severely constrained, and a potential coronavirus vaccine still many months away, the people and companies that have made London into a hub for real estate, finance, the arts, hospitality and technology are desperately trying to reinvent themselves in hopes of surviving the pandemic.
One sign of progress: pubs, restaurants and hair salons can reopen on Saturday, provided they follow social distancing guidelines.