London springs out of lockdown: nine before-and-after pictures

With Covid restrictions easing, people in the UK capital are venturing out again

Covent Garden tube station in central London in February (left) and April 2021. Rob Greig for The National
Powered by automated translation

On April 12, stage two of England's road map out of Covid lockdown was enacted and a vast chunk of its economy blew off the cobwebs and reopened to an expectant public.

Pubs, restaurants and cafes were allowed to resume outside service and non-essential retail shops and gyms welcomed back patrons, albeit with Covid-secure protocols in place.

Nowhere in England is there a denser concentration of retail, hospitality and leisure establishments than its capital city.

Back on a Saturday in February, before the road map had begun, and when schoolchildren were still learning from home, The National sent photographer Rob Greig on to London's desolate streets to take a snapshot of the city in lockdown.

Fast forward to last Saturday and Greig returned to take shots from the same viewpoints, at the same time of day.

Scroll through the interactive pictures below to see the disparities as London springs out of lockdown.

Londoners going underground


These pictures were taken outside Covent Garden Tube station, and the contrast is marked.

A solitary scooter rider is the only sign of life in the first picture while the second is characterised by its distinct normality. Cyclists whizz along the street and families and friends go hither and thither.

Transport for London told The National that in the week commencing April 19, Tube use increased to 35 per cent to 38 per cent of normal levels and bus use was back to 60 per cent of typical demand.

Compare this with February when Tube use was 25 per cent of normal levels – although positively crowded compared with the 5 per cent during the first lockdown in spring 2020.

Apple data shows walking and driving were down on pre-pandemic levels, too, but in recent weeks mobility in the capital rose.


London’s shoppers hit the streets


Shopping may not be everyone's idea of freedom but these pictures taken on Regent Street are reflective of a trend across the capital and the country: shoppers are gaining confidence.

“There is a growing sense that the worst of the pandemic is behind us and people are becoming more comfortable with venturing out to the supermarket,” said Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar.

“While the market may fluctuate between growth and decline in the months ahead, depending on the year-on-year comparison being made, the fact that trip numbers are up and basket sizes down suggests that habits are slowly returning to normal.”

Latest retail figures from analysts Springboard confirm his analysis. In the week after the launch of stage two, year-on-year footfall in Greater London was up 347 per cent.

While Harrods may not represent an everyday shopping experience, the slider below shows that the capital’s most famous and opulent shop is a hot spot once more.


Chinatown rediscovers its joie de vivre


Chinatown in London is synonymous with food. Take that away and it becomes a painfully depleted landscape, as February’s picture shows.

But with outdoor eating back on the menu, last Saturday the gastronomic quarter was revived.

Restaurant and bakery owners in the locale were even harder hit than those elsewhere in the capital, Eater London reported, as the city centre was almost void of footfall – but not now.

London parks continue to bloom


In January, The National reported how the capital's parks were providing an Arcadian lifeline for locked-down Londoners.

Green Park was chosen for the above slider and it is clear that the murky, wintry conditions persuaded Londoners to stay at home.

Roll forward to last Saturday and scores of people are milling at the station entrance, perhaps considering a trip to nearby Buckingham Palace.

London landmarks wake up from hibernation

Below are four more sliders taken at famous locations around London: Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Bridge and Piccadilly Circus.

Judge for yourself if the "it’s like Piccadilly Circus in here" idiom to convey hustle and bustle can be accurately applied once more.

Covent Garden 


Trafalgar Square


Westminster Bridge


Piccadilly Circus


More on coronavirus

Vaccines found to work against Indian Covid variant

Coronavirus - live updates