London braced for backlash as England locked down by Covid restrictions

Gloom reigns as restaurants are closed and non-essential shops shut

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As Londoners eked out the last hours of social life ahead of a four-week Covid-19 lockdown, the finishing line of December 2 loomed large in the minds of many.

A French waiter in an upmarket restaurant in Chelsea was sceptical that the shutdown would be just 28 days. "We hope to come back but who knows when," he said. "In the first lockdown it was only supposed to be a few weeks but it was most of the spring and summer."

Just a few hours before the midnight deadline the normally bustling Trafalgar Square, the symbolic heart of the city, was quieter than normal. Like many passers-by, Steve, 50, was deeply critical of the new lockdown.

“I’m disgusted to be honest, I don’t think it should be happening. The science isn’t there to say that it’s needed and I think the downsides, the negatives of it, are significantly bigger than any potential upsides. The economy, mental health and health care,” he said.

“I think it’s absolutely appalling, so I’m very, very anti-lockdown,’ he said on Wednesday.

He did not think as many people would stick to the lockdown this time around.

“I was gobsmacked how many people were so obedient and compliant for the first lockdown. I don’t think it’s going to happen this time and I think we’ll see that tomorrow night, Friday night, when there’s a planned protest in central London, and I think they’ll have a lot of people.”

England's lockdown rules. 

The second nationwide lockdown that started on Thursday is an emergency measure to help repel a surge in Covid-19 cases, as restaurants and non-essential shops were closed for at least a month and people asked to stay at home if possible.

While there was not universal support for the first lockdown in March when the virus first extended its grip around the country, it was generally accepted because of the threat to life.

This time there has been more resistance, as the UK’s ailing economy struggles to get itself going again, the hospitality industry faces the prospect of closing after only just reopening and some grow increasingly frustrated at the curtailment on their freedoms.

Nearly 1.1 million people in the UK have tested positive for Covid-19, with nearly 48,000 deaths.

Trafalgar Square has long been a preferred place to hold demonstrations on hot button topics.

On Thursday, police arrested more than 100 people who took part in the "Million Mask March", which was associated with anarchist group Anonymous.

The annual anti-capitalist demonstration that this year attracted a significant number of people angry with the second shutdown.

In recent weeks mask-less demonstrators and conspiracy theorists have turned out in the square and the volume of protests is expected to grow in the weeks ahead.

Witnessing it all for the past six years is Andy, who has drawn illustrations on the floor of the square. On Wednesday night, hours before the lockdown was enforced, there were some people milling about the area as young skateboarders enjoyed the evening in front of the National Gallery.

But it was nothing compared with the normal hustle and bustle that Trafalgar Square is used to says Andy, who gave only his first name.

“Even a day ago it seemed like everybody was already in the lockdown mentality,” he said.

His newest painting is of a tearful Paddington Bear with a speech bubble coming from the famed children’s literary character saying “LOCK DOWN”.

While Andy says he is not particularly worried by the lockdown, he says Paddington’s saddened mood is a reflection of the depression he also feels.

“It hasn’t been thought through, it’s more like an emotional response. I’m feeling depressed, I’m going to be locked down for four weeks,” Andy said.

Abhijit Sarkar, who splits his time between London and Hong Kong, fears for the economic effect.

“I feel whatever needed to be achieved is already there. By going for this the second round, they are damaging a lot of livelihoods because people have one shutdown, reopen, again shutting down. I think a little bit more empathy is required, because governments can think on a whim but for a poor businessman or a daily wage earner, it’s difficult to do this on/off,” he said.

In west London's Edgware Road, a place packed with Middle Eastern restaurants, newsagent Samir Amir said business had suffered but that government support had helped.

"The world is undergoing a strange transformation, the virus has affected all countries. It has cost us all dearly. The government is trying to protect us by keeping us away from it," said Mr Amir, who has worked locally for 40 years.

"The lockdown happened before, this is the second one now. The business has suffered of course, but the government is really helping us till we get out of this crisis.

"Of course because of the restrictions, less people are coming. I’m not overly worried, the economy goes up and down, we’ve all felt that before."

Omar Rusdie, from the Shishawi Cafe, warned that it would take a while for business to get back to normal.

"Tonight is not normal, it’s the last night and people are out here.

"It's affected us, it will take us a long time to get back to normal. We’ve kept our staff because they’ve been hit very hard. We’re doing our best," he said.

"We are running our business with the minimum amount of staff, you can’t hire people, how can you afford it? The government is paying their salaries now."

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