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London and COVID - Current Situation

Hello All,

I'm writing to ask about what the current situation is like on the ground in London. I'm not so interested in the status of COVID (I can look up the stats and see that rates are falling), but more the general atmosphere. I'm assuming there are fewer tourists - but it is noticeably less crowded? From a quick search, it appears that many places encourage advanced tickets to reduce crowds in major museums. How is public transport - more or less the same as pre-pandemic, or less crowded?

I ask because my sister and her family, whom we haven't seen since Christmas 2019, are in London for the next few months for work. Going was not on my radar until yesterday when quarantine was lifted. I feel like I should be jumping at the chance to go, and the fact that I'm hesitating makes me think I need to really look at this from all angles. Hence, reaching out to you kind people. I'm fully vaccinated, but my kids (ages 8 and 6) are not. We have been hoping to go to London for a few years, but it kept being pushed back and then the pandemic hit. I guess the question I'm looking to have answered is would we still get something worthwhile out of this impromptu trip as things stand today, or would it be better to wait an extra year when things are back to normal - including the return of crowds. I'm especially interested to hear from those living in or near London or who have visited recently.

Thank you!

Posted by
4933 posts

London is pretty much back to normal. My wife and eldest son are working in the City during the week and I was last there at the end of June. It was less crowded for a Friday mid morning on the Tube, masks were required then and still are now although since the wider restrictions on mask wearing were relaxed there are fewer people wearing them.

I had lunch at Borough Market which was quite busy but not heaving, it made a pleasant change. Walking from Borough Market to Tower Bridge I encountered fewer people than I usually would pre-pandemic but it was still quite busy. Bars, restaurants, cafes, shops etc were all trading well. Late Friday afternoon I took my sons on a impromptu visit to The British Library. On arrival we were informed that we required timed tickets. There was no queue so I simply went online on my phone and booked tickets there and then and entered the museum. There were another five or six people whilst we were there so great to have the exhibits almost to yourself.

Saturday morning encompassed a quick trip to Brick Lane for some record shopping. The indoor food market and surrounding area was reasonably busy, enough to prevent it feeling empty and soulless but not so busy that it's unpleasant.

Museums will be open but many will still be operating timed entry which is not a bad thing, at least you know that numbers will be controlled and they won't feel too busy however you do lose the spontanaiety.

I actually preferred London on this last visit, usually I find it too overbearing and too busy so I would say right now is a perfect time to visit.

Posted by
29643 posts

I'm probably not much help to you but I'll do my best.

I'd question your "I can look up the stats and see that rates are falling" because actually they aren't. I don't know if you can read this BBC article that came out yesterday, but it questions the actual underlying rate of sickness as opposed to overall testing numbers. They in fact have decreased slightly but only from an extremely high spike, and yesterday the numbers actually rose again. There are other things which indicate some trouble for visitors coming here, such as the massive number of folks being "pinged" from having been in close contact with a positive person. Several of my neighbours have, for the first time, become infected, including my gardener's family. Today another all-time record number of pings has been announced, despite many businesses ordering their staff to uninstall the app because they would rather have potentially infected staff than be short staffed.

Because of the the pinging many businesses have had to close or reduce hours, including 2 London tube lines closing last week. Trains companies have cut services because of short staffing.

Some hospital emergency departments were announced today as turning people away because of short staffing.

The relaxation of lockdown and lockdown restrictions is a political decision, not one supported by the medical community.

We can't go on holiday because of the changing sands of restrictions. France won't let us in, nor Italy, and if we return from or through France we have to quarantine, regardless of vaccination. So Brits are taking hotels and resorts that normally would be full of overseas tourists, so when they do come there may be difficulties getting desirable rooms at desirable rates.

Those are real things which affect everybody, those of us who live here and visitor alike.

I'd love it to be all over. I haven't seen a relative for 18 months. We won't use public transport even though I as a retired train worker get free travel. We are being (even more) patient again. Before the Delta variant it was looking great. Not at the moment.

I would guess that if your sister and her family are in London now, they would probably have better answers about London specifically than I who refuses to go there from just an hour away until the numbers get back down from the high numbers to a gentle roar.

Posted by
1757 posts

I would wait to go as kids are now more susceptible to Delta. Arkansas Children’s Hospital has a serious uptick with children being admitted with Covid.

Posted by
234 posts

(Leaving the actual risk of infection out of it, because I am not informed enough on the risks to unvaccinated children to opine.)

London is less crowded than usual at the tourist sites and public transport, but I would not describe it as actively uncrowded - there are definitely people about. I think virtually all tourist sites/museums are requiring advance booking for specific time slots. This is true for restaurants and pubs as well (though this might’ve changed in the last ten days since the so-called “freedom day” - I have been away on holiday) and many do book up well in advance. So you really need to plan everything ahead of time to avoid disappointment, but the nice thing is there is less queueing and crowding.

The other thing to be aware of is that the rules around travel and other COVID restrictions like masks, rules on gathering and seeing people outside your household, restaurants/pubs, etc can and do change on a dime. So you would need to go into it with the ability to be flexible (including cancelling your trip without losing your money) and react to rule changes as needed.

If you’re okay with all of the above, then it could be a really nice time to visit. It’s not dead but it’s nowhere near as crowded as it used to be during the height of summer tourist season so it would be a really nice time to visit the British Museum, Tower of London, etc.

Posted by
174 posts

Hello All,

I just wanted to give a quick update that I decided not to go to London. There were a lot of factors, but all mainly related to COVID. There would have been a lot of testing (plus the hassle and cost of procuring the tests). The boys would have had to quarantine for seven days when we got back, and that didn't seem fair to them. And then, of course, the biggest issue - all the news that was released in the past few days relating to the Delta variant. Nigel, thank you for pointing out that the falling numbers weren't telling the whole story; that very night, I saw a news report exploring why they numbers were going down, and one such reason was "people who suspect they are sick aren't getting tested to maintain plausible deniability." In the past few days my own comfort level about doing certain activities has drastically changed. When I wrote my question, I figured as long as the boys were masked, we would be fine in museums and public transport. Now, I don't want to take them into any indoor public space unless I have to. Maybe I'm being too cautious - but I'm okay with that.

Thank you again to all who answered. Hopefully I'll be asking questions about London for a summer 2022 trip (because this can't last another whole year.....right??).

Posted by
7351 posts

I’m scheduled to visit London in November. Flights not yet booked but do have reservations to some events. All refundable. I’m fully vaccinated. Staying at a friends large flat. I’m looking forward to this return to my favorite city on the planet.