Thursday will be a month since England lifted all their restrictions against Kovid. Apart from the obligation to self-isolate for contact cases, maintained for another month, and wearing masks in a closed space, the British economy was able to fully reopen on 19 July. This “Independence Day”, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called it, however, was not accompanied by a radical change in behaviour.
Several mobility indicators show that the British have been cautious in their behaviour. Data collected by Google from its users indicates that the number of riders in public transport is 29% lower than before the pandemic. The same goes for workplace visits, which are down 40%. These data have changed little since the beginning of July, an indication that the difference is not explained solely by the duration of the summer holidays.
The “Center for Cities” think tank made the same observation in a study published last week. Workers did not return to the office en masse, which punishes the economic activity of city centres. However, on 19 July, the government dropped its recommendation in favor of telecommuting, giving companies the freedom to adjust the timing of their employees’ attendance.
The “Center for Cities” notes that large cities are still far from regaining their luster. Worker attendance in London is only 35% compared to pre-Covid. For other large cities such as Birmingham or Manchester (46 to 47% of pre-Covid levels), the decline is slightly lower, but remains significant. Cities that benefit from an influx of tourists such as Blackpool or Bournemouth are seaside towns. Even a city like Brighton has attendance levels of just 78% compared to before the pandemic.
26% online sales
Migration of laborers is not the only reason. Consumers visit stores less often, while the share of online sales still accounts for 26% of total sales in June, which is four points higher than in February 2020. Data from the springboard used by the National Office for British Statistics (ONS) shows that there is a frequency. Shops on August 7 remain at 80% compared to the same period in 2019.
The difference is even more pronounced if we take into account only downtown businesses. The British Retail Consortium confirmed this through its attendance indicator, which also showed a double-digit drop between June and July in city centres, down 35% from their level before Covid.
no outbreak of infection
Epidemiologists, who feared the spread of infection with the lifting of restrictions, were also surprised at the moderation in practice. Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London, after predicting 100,000 cases a day by mid-August, revised an interview with the Financial Times, as the UK is currently saying around 30,000 cases per day. “I probably spoke too quickly,” he admitted. His prediction was based on the assumption that “when restrictions are eased people increase their contacts.”
So far, this has not happened, each person was still exposed to an average of 3.7 persons per day. To draw more conclusions, with the start of the school year and employees returning to the office, we’ll probably have to wait until fall.
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