Not for the first time, the capital city, reviled by some as un-British, is demonstrating the sangfroid conventionally held to be a bedrock national characteristic. Sadiq Khan, speaking to journalists after the launch of his reelection campaign yesterday, invoked “the old saying, ‘keep calm and carry on'” to characterise the attitude Londoners should take to the spread of the coronavirus in what is, after all, a truly global city which people arrive in from across the world in large numbers every day.
“I’m confident in the expert advice we’re receiving,” he said. “The advice is there’s no reason at all to worry about using the Tube or the buses.” He said that, although reviewing the situation every day, he did not “foresee a situation where we are advising people not to use public transport” or “where we’re saying, don’t go to concerts or banning people from being in confined spaces.” Neither did he anticipate the elections for Mayor and London Assembly being delayed because of the virus. “Not just because I’m ahead in polls – heaven forbid! – but because I think it’s really important we go about our business unless there’s good reason not to.”
Despite its internationalism and being home to 13 per cent of the UK’s population, only a handful of coronavirus cases have so far been identified in London, including two patients at King’s College Hospital in Camberwell and one at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, which on Tuesday decided to close in what a source at the City of London Corporation said was probably an over-reaction.
There are anecdotal reports of the Underground feeling a bit less crowded, but Transport for London has released guidance about how not to spread the virus when using the Tube rather than to stop using it. The most disruptive of which is to avoid touching the poles in the carriages and to be wearing gloves if doing. Otherwise, it’s mostly a repeat of the advice being issued everywhere about washing your hands frequently. This follows a warning last month that the Tube could become a “hotbed” of contamination.
The most dramatic single reaction to anxiety about the virus has been the cancellation of the annual London Book Fair, after a number of major publishers and agencies took it upon themselves to pull out. A World Book Day event that was due to take place at the New Wimbledon Theatre on Thursday has also been called off after a staff member at Wimbledon College was identified as a coronavirus case. Meanwhile, the cancellation of this year’s MIPIM property trade conference in Cannes has been greeted in London’s real estate circles with some pleasure, so arduous do some find the annual jamboree. One person denied a trip to the south of France described himself as “elated”.
‘”We’re not getting the best advice from round the world and from with Public Health England and the chief medical officer,” said the Mayor “We’re looking at what other cities, global cities, are doing. The advice we’ve had so far has been good.” He’s not panicking and, so far, neither is the city he leads.
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