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An unreal city: lockdown in London | World news



How does it feel to be locked down in the largest urban centre in western Europe? Well, it certainly looks different from the skies. I live on the steepest hill in south London, a hill so steep that in pre-coronavirus times it would draw swarms of angry bankers on £4k touring bikes, clinging to its spine like thirsty wasps around a lime tree.

On day one of London lockdown the hill is empty, the city below unnaturally silent. From here you can see the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, the grey outline of Muswell Hill to the north and the full range of postmodern skyscrapers in between. You can hear the hum of London’s traffic and the twin flightpaths of Heathrow and City airports.

Not today, though. Rarely can six million people have been this quiet on a Tuesday morning. From up here, London has entered standby mode. But look a little closer and the body is still breathing, the streets humming with an insubordinate inner life.

On Lordship Lane, East Dulwich, people are walking three abreast, carrying out essential trips to the deli and the cheese shop. Builders are refitting shop fronts. Essential group-jogging is taking place. Insanely – and how insane that this should seem insane – the chip shop with the tables is open for business.

Even the Thames looks quiet. The City’s skyscrapers loom over a locked-down central London.

Even the Thames looks quiet. The City’s skyscrapers loom over a locked-down central London. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Closer to town, people are playing football in Ruskin Park, on Denmark Hill. Demob-happy kids are strolling in groups on the Old Kent Road. In Camberwell, it’s like a moderately busy rush hour – not just for the NHS staff thronging dutifully into Kings College hospital, but for the people milling about the shops or crowding by the park entrance, people those same staff may soon be asked to treat.

This is not, by any stretch of the word, a lockdown. Not much has been locked. Nobody seems that down. The plague laws may be back on the streets, dusted off after 500 years on the shelf. But London still doesn’t seem to have really noticed.

Perhaps there is still a degree of shock at just how rapid the journey here has been. Thirteen days ago, 55,000 people, 3,000 of them from Madrid, were watching football in Liverpool. Three days ago, people were still thronging the restaurants and pubs.

Even now, on lockdown Day Zero, East Street market is rammed with shoppers drawn to the fish and fruit stalls. People have to eat but there is not much distancing here.

East Street Market, Walworth, south London: shopping continues despite the lockdown.

East Street market, Walworth, south London: shopping continues despite the lockdown. Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian

On nearby Walworth Road, a building has collapsed and police and fire engines are present, along with a curious, milling crowd of people who have just popped out for a fag and a chat, the two south London must-haves of bronchial virus season.

At times like these it is hard to avoid the disaster movie images, the deja vu of virus flick montages, even those tempting wartime parallels. In his poem MCMXIV, Philip Larkin wrote about the queues of eager, smiling young volunteers signing up to fight in the first world war, a happy, prosperous crowd “grinning as if it were all an August Bank Holiday lark”.

The theme of Larkin’s poem was innocence lost. This feels more like a failure of communication, like the most dysfunctional, libertarian version of lockdown; and like something entirely inadequate for a city of this scale.

It was not like this everywhere.

The Guardian’s photographs from around the UK on Tuesday show mounted police patrolling a ghostly South Bank on the Thames. Glasgow Central station is deserted. Small-town streets across the country show evidence of civic-minded abandonment. The motorways in particular are frightening places, empty arteries dotted with the odd worried-looking car.

But big cities, or at least the parts people live in, are an uncontrolled environment at the best of times.

Mounted police on London’s South Bank – an area usually thronged with people.

Mounted police on London’s South Bank – an area usually thronged with people. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

This needs a more ruthless kind of micromanagement. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has suggested under the current definition 1.1 million Londoners count as key workers (now including people such as bicycle mechanics as well as nurses and heart surgeons).

The other eight million Londoners still need to go shopping. Meanwhile, the details of the shutdown are hazy on such a huge scale. London is thronged with fast food shacks, chicken cottages, kebab houses, pizza gaffs. Entire rows of these are now shut, and people really are going to have to get used to cooking.

But the hardware shops are still spilling out on the pavement. You can still buy homeopathic remedies from the health shop. Dog walking gets a pass, which makes owning a dog suddenly an A-list accessory, key to trebling your personal freedom at a stroke.

As for going shopping “for necessities”: define necessity, which could mean anything from a perfectly foamed cortado to five tins of spam in the trolley, to a reliable, safe supply of crack cocaine and heroin.

Glasgow Central railway station, almost deserted.

Glasgow Central railway station, almost deserted. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

In the supermarket on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton, south London a middle-aged cashier is keeping order as furtive human shapes grab things from the shelves. The entrance is full of street people, drinkers, people with nowhere else to go. An unsteady-looking man in a long overcoat has already chased the security guard to the back of the shop. “Don’t be upset, darling,” the cashier says in a warm, churchy kind of voice. “Now you’re going to have to stand back. Yes, back. Thank you, darling.”

This is not simply operating a till and stacking shelves. Social care is happening here. The cashier says her daughter is at home with her grandmother. Today, she’s finally been allowed to download TikTok. As they leave the shop, people thank her for coming in to work. It feels like they’re thanking her for something else, for sounding like someone is at least in control.

The class divide is also working in lockdown. In Dulwich Park, the proscribed single form of exercise appears to be buggy-pushing shuttle sprints or immaculately turned-out middle-aged power jogs. In Burgess Park, between Camberwell and Bermondsey, it’s gathering round a bench lifting a cold purple tin and occasionally shouting at each other.

These are Londoners too. Where are they supposed to go? Where are kids who don’t want to be at home supposed to go, or people who just have a shared room, or a shared space with someone they try to avoid?

Day one felt like a light-touch London lockdown. The edges will undoubtedly tighten. As in other cities, this is a staged process. It will need to be, if there is any hope of flattening that infernal curve, the curve nobody really knew about two weeks ago but which is now the subject of fevered digital expertise.

London has a deep, buried history of plague laws, of wardens wandering the streets, of crosses on doors and houses shuttered and bolted. This is surely coming again in some form. Although exactly how this restless, tightly packed, defiantly distracted place will cope with the key being turned is anyone’s guess.

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From the coronavirus epicenter of Wuhan comes a heartwarming story of triumph over adversity, of love and loss. But this tale — which is ricocheting around Chinese social media — is not a human story but a feline one.

It centers on Lele, a two-year-old British shorthair cat who lived with a big family in Wuhan and who happened to be pregnant during the epidemic.

Seven members of one family became infected with the coronavirus and, one by one, were hospitalized. But the family members were reluctant to ask a neighbor to look after Lele, worried about exposing them to risk of infection.

So, they set out two big bags of cat food, and a trough of water for her. They also built her a comfy nest in which to have her babies.

Some 40 days later, the matriarch of the house came home. She found Lele, much thinner but still alive. Also alive: four healthy kittens. She called her husband, still in hospital, and told him the kittens were big enough to run now.

“When a new life was born, I felt there’s hope, I haven’t been discharged at the time [when my wife called me], they were weaned when I came back,” the man told local website Pear Video. The couple wasn’t named, but the man posted on China’s version of TikTok under the name “Wuhan Cat Strong.”

There was still some cat food left on the floor, but Lele had clearly had a hankering for something a little more fresh. The fish tank in the apartment had been cleared of its inhabitants.

The tale lit up China’s Internet, with commenters on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, noting the fishes’ sacrifice.

“The fish didn’t get coronavirus but still died because of it,” said one person using the screen name of Mr. Lemon. Another said this was a welcome tale of survival — by the cats, if not the fish: “Compared with these reports of deaths, this is touching.”

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When María José Rodríguez heard on local television that her town in northeastern Spain would be locked down within hours, she knew she had to leave or risk losing her family’s business.

She grabbed a bag of groceries, a fresh change of clothes and her car keys, said goodbye to her husband and drove to her son’s apartment in a nearby village, above the family bakery. For more than two weeks, she has been locked out of the town, Igualada. Her husband has been locked in, and they have no way of knowing how long it will go on.

“Had I not moved out to keep running the bakery, we would have had to close it,” Ms. Rodríguez, 63, said at her shop in the village of La Pobla de Claramunt. “But we’ll be fine, and I call my husband 50 times a day. At the very least.”

Many European countries have imposed various forms of lockdowns to contain the epidemic, but Igualada, an industrial town 30 miles northwest of Barcelona, stands out. Even as Spain has imposed a nationwide lockdown, it has cut Igualada off from the rest of the country — a lockdown within a lockdown.

After its hospital was identified as a hub of a regional outbreak that has reached nearly 20,000 coronavirus infections and more than 2,500 deaths, officials sealed off Igualada and three smaller neighboring towns, at midnight on March 12, stranding about 65,000 people.

Police forces guard every access point, allowing only essential workers to enter and leave. The barriers have divided families like Ms. Rodríguez’s, put people out of work and thrown households into uncertainty for weeks, if not more.

“We are in a cage, and we are learning how to stop trying to control everything,” said Gemma Sabaté, a 48-year-old physical therapist stranded there.

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Boy, 13, dies in London after testing positive for coronavirus | World news




A 13-year-old boy with no apparent underlying health conditions has died after testing positive for coronavirus, his family has said.

Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab from Brixton, south London, died in hospital in the early hours of Monday. He had tested positive for Covid-19 on Friday, a day after he was admitted to King’s College hospital, his family said.

Mark Stephenson, a family friend, said the boy’s mother and six siblings are now awaiting the results of a postmortem.

A spokesman for King’s College hospital NHS foundation trust said: “Sadly, a 13-year old boy who tested positive for Covid-19 has passed away, and our thoughts and condolences are with the family at this time.

“The death has been referred to the coroner and no further comment will be made.”

Following the release of the latest official figures, a 19-year-old was believed to be England’s youngest victim to have died in hospital with no existing medical issues.

Ismail’s family said they were “beyond devastated” by his death, in a statement released through Stephenson.

“Ismail started showing symptoms and had difficulties breathing and was admitted to King’s College hospital,” the family said.

“He was put on a ventilator and then put into an induced coma but sadly died yesterday morning. To our knowledge he had no underlying health conditions. We are beyond devastated.”

Stephenson, college director at the Madinah College where Ismail’s sister works, has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for funeral costs. The page says: “Sadly he died without any family members close by due to the highly infectious nature of Covid-19.”

By Tuesday evening more than £28,000 had been raised, far exceeding the £4,000 target.

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