Covid, Ghost Cities and the Collapse of Property Prices in the West End and the City of London

An almost entirely deserted Oxford Circus on November 10, 2020, during the latest Covid lockdown in England. A previously unpublished photo from Andy Worthington’s photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

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Is this how the world as we know it ends, then — not with a bang, or even a whimper, but with the slow, silent death of shops, pubs, restaurants and live culture?

England’s second Covid lockdown, introduced on November 5 in response to rising infection rates, has, in a crucial pre-Christmas month for business, shut down all shops regarded as “non-essential” — in other words, to name just a few examples, all clothes shops, gift shops and bookshops, as well as pubs and restaurants — with a sense of timing that could lead one to conclude that it was dictated by Amazon and other online retailers for whom Covid has seen their businesses reap unprecedented profits.

The cost of this, in terms of businesses shutting down, and employees laid off, is not yet known, but it seems likely that, as 2021 unfolds, the centres of our cities and towns will be wastelands, reminiscent of the early 1980s under Margaret Thatcher.

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COVID-19 and the Economic Meltdown: Was Global Tourism the Only Thing Keeping Us Afloat?

Grounded planes in Alabama, March 25, 2020 (Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters).

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Three months since the arrival of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 prompted an unprecedented lockdown on human interaction and on huge swathes of our economy, the primary objective — preventing our hospitals and morgues from being overwhelmed — has been achieved. The cost — economically, and, in some cases, psychologically — has been enormous, but the road ahead, as those in charge attempt to revive a functioning economy, looks like it will be even more arduous.

No congratulations should be extended to Boris Johnson and his government for the achievements of the lockdown. Johnson dithered for far too long at the beginning of the crisis, and the deaths of tens of thousands of people are, as a result, his responsibility, although not his responsibility alone, as the last few months have also shown us that, sadly, this empty windbag of a Prime Minister is largely manipulated by his senior adviser, the sneering eugenicist Dominic Cummings.

Both men were initially prepared to allow the virus to spread unchecked throughout the entire population, with people required to “take it on the chin”, as they let it “move through the population”, as Johnson explained in a now notorious TV appearance. It was only when medical experts pointed out the potential death toll of the “herd immunity” scenario that the lockdown began, following similar conclusions that were, in most other countries, reached rather earlier in the virus’s spread.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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