Coronavirus: Seven ways life in London has changed


For the last few months, normality has been wiped from London. Aside from the catastrophic human cost of coronavirus, businesses have been shut and people incarcerated in their own homes. When it’s all over — and who knows when that might be — there’s no guarantee of “normality” returning. In all likelihood, some businesses will remain shut. But beyond closed doors, London’s way of life might change too.

More trips to offices, parks and beaches

More people have started visiting their workplaces and going to non-grocery shops, according to Google mobility data. But these visits are still about a third lower than pre-lockdown in February.

Visits to recreational sites such as parks and beaches have increased, with people making the most of the warmer weather.

Trips fell during the recent wet weather in late July, after a rise at the start of England’s school summer holidays – even though most children have not been into school since March.

The late May Bank Holiday also saw a spike in recreational trips, as people flocked to beaches, followed by another spike a month later when the good weather saw thousands head to coastal areas like Bournemouth and Poole.

Rental prices came down.

While no industry will come out of Covid-19 unhurt, one of the worst-hit is indeed the travel industry. Countries closed their borders, airlines asked for a government bailout, and hotels closed for the foreseeable future. Yet not everyone who travels uses hotels… at least, they didn’t use to.

Short term holiday lettings companies like AirBnB had eaten a considerable chunk of their market share. And while offering people a way to make some extra cash from a spare room, they swiftly morphed into something else — entire properties were held for short lettings, eating into a finite resource the city doesn’t have enough: housing stock.

The government has tried to legislate to prevent entire properties being used as short-lets all year-round, but the rules are frequently broken and rarely enforced. However, coronavirus has done what government legislation failed. The short term letting bookings have dried up, and these properties are now being put on the regular long-term rental market. There’s early evidence that this influx of new properties are driving prices down. While this price undercutting probably won’t last post-pandemic, the precariousness of the short-term lettings game might mean that property owners decide to stick to long-term lets instead. And an increase in the housing supply should keep prices down.

Working from home is becoming the norm.

The changing of attitude to the three little letters ‘wfh’ was happening even before coronavirus — TfL had hypothesised that falling ridership numbers could be down to this — but the pandemic had the power to make the change to the way we work overnight. Of course, not everyone can work from home, and it’s often the essential workers (one side effect of the pandemic is unveiling who is key to society functioning) who can’t.

But for the rest of us, especially those in the creative agencies, or with white-collar jobs, working from home is very doable. In fact, for many of us, it’s better (you can stay in your PJs all day, what’s not to love!). With many London-transplants heading “home home” to wait out the pandemic somewhere with a garden, it’s even raised the question of whether people need to move to London for their job.

A couple of months ago, we were sure many people would jump for joy at the idea of returning to the office… But now that we are encouraged to do so, we see people experience a desire for the relaxed pace of that wfh life.

Online sales couldn’t rescue struggling High Street.

While supermarkets stayed open throughout the pandemic, ”non-essential” stores had to close, which was terrible news for the embattled UK High Street. 

After dropping sharply, sales of non-food items began to recover in May, and have bounced back further since shops were allowed to reopen in June and July.

While many shops continued to sell online, its surge didn’t cancel out the drop of in-store purchases, with total non-food sales down 15.9% in June compared with pre-lockdown levels.

For department stores, in June, online sales more than doubled, yet overall sales fell more than 5% compared with February.

By contrast, stores selling household goods opposed the trend with a slight overall increase, boosted by the home improvements boom.

Face masks and social distancing

In London, wearing a face-covering became compulsory on public transport on 15 June, and in many enclosed public spaces on 24 July.

Between 15 June and 20 July, 32 people in England and Wales were fined for not wearing a face-covering on public transport, while just one person was fined for not obeying quarantine rules after returning from abroad..

The UK government was initially reluctant to advise the general public to wear face coverings, even as other countries in Europe did.

It introduced rules requiring people to wear face coverings on public transport in June, and now says people in England must wear face coverings in shops or face a fine.

Globally, many authorities – including the World Health Organization (WHO) – initially suggested that masks were not effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. However, they are now recommending face coverings in indoor spaces, and many governments have even made them mandatory.

“Countries with no previous history of wearing face masks and coverings amongst the general public rapidly adopted usage such as in Italy (83.4%), the United States (65.8%) and Spain (63.8%),” says a report by the Royal Society – one of the leading science bodies in the UK.

The changes appear to be partly due to a better understanding of how Covid-19 spreads.

The number of online job adverts has halved.

As the long-term financial effects of the pandemic start to take hold, it appears some employers are putting hiring plans on ice.

About half as many online job adverts were posted during 17-24 July as the 2019 average, ONS analysis of job website Adzuna suggests.

The number of available jobs plummeted in some areas, with vacancies in the charity and voluntary sector falling by more than 85%, and management and consulting jobs down about 78%. 

But availability in some sectors has almost returned to last year’s levels. Health and social care vacancies are at about 93% of their 2019 level, rising to 98% for jobs in facilities and maintenance. 

Air pollution overtook last year at times.

In the spring, lower levels of travelling made a difference to the environment, with air pollution dropping compared with last year.

Average readings of nitrogen dioxide, one of the main pollutants from vehicles, were lower throughout lockdown than on equivalent days of the week in 2019. 

But the gap narrowed after restrictions started to ease in May, and most people were able to travel further afield.

At some points in June and July, readings were as high or higher than the equivalent day last year.