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London Isn't Shutting Down Yet, Despite Fast Coronavirus Spread There


Rome, Paris, Madrid - they are all on lockdown. But in London, some people are still stopping by the pub for a pint. And so far, the U.K. government is not stopping them, even though COVID-19 is growing fastest in the British capital. NPR's Frank Langfitt is in London. He joins us now.

Hey, Frank.


KELLY: So why are people still able to go to the pub? Why is the U.K. resisting some of these tougher measures that we just described we're seeing playing out in other European countries?

LANGFITT: Well, Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists - you know, he's told them not to go to pubs. He's also told people not to - to stay off the Tube, to work from home. And he thinks it's working. He says that enough people are doing this; it doesn't - he doesn't need to go this far. And what we've seen today is they've shut down, I think, up to 40 of the less busy Tube stops. They say - the government says, an 80% decrease in Tube travel in inner London.

And what's really interesting - today he had his normal press conference, Boris Johnson did. And he was really emphatic that he's not going to follow the lead of these other cities in Europe. And this is what he said.


PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: Want to stress that, you know, there is no prospect of us wanting to stop public transport in London or stop TF (ph) - stop the Tube or the buses. We're not going to be telling people that under no circumstances, if they really need to go to work, can they go to work.

KELLY: Frank, a lot of people are not on board with this approach. I'm reading doctors, some scientists criticizing...


KELLY: ...Boris Johnson's approach - saying it is time to do more. How is the public reacting there?

LANGFITT: I think many people are surprised by this. Some are out. I mean, there are a lot of people actually out on the streets kind of enjoying the freedom while they can. But they also question how long it's going to last. You know, Boris Johnson kept saying he was not going to close schools - again, bucking the trend that we've seen on much of the continent. And then schools are going to close here tomorrow.

Today we caught up with several friends in a pub in East London. They'd been cooped up for a number of days. They said they went out, saw people on the streets. Then they saw this deal for a pint of beer for about two pounds, which is a very good deal...


LANGFITT: ...And they couldn't resist it. And one of them said, you know, if the prime minister isn't going to close the pubs, he's going to keep going to them. This guy's name's Harris Allen. He's an actor, and he also has another job.

HARRIS ALLEN: I work in a pub. Like, if no one comes in and drinks, I won't have a job, you know? I'm not getting paid. So it kind of feels like - there's people who come and drink in our pub. And I think - God, you're stupid, but I'm glad you're here. And I guess I'm filling that role now.

KELLY: But I mean, again, ignoring the advice to stay out of the pub, stay home - are people there worried about this, worried about being healthy?

LANGFITT: Some people are worried about staying healthy, and these guys certainly said that they were trying to be careful when they were going out. Incidentally, we were able to - we interviewed them using a six-foot boom mic to be careful, of course.

KELLY: Mm hmm. Yeah, social distancing.

LANGFITT: And what they said is they thought that the government actually needs to take control of this issue, that it actually should close down pubs. And they want to see more direction from Boris Johnson. Here's another one of these guys. His name's Josh Tucker. He's an actor and a part-time schoolteacher. This is how he put it.


JOSH TUCKER: If you don't physically take that away from us, we will still go to those places that we are familiar with and enjoy interacting with people as much as we can. You know, it needs to be - right, you stay in your house; you have to.

KELLY: Just briefly, Frank, is the U.K. giving any kind of timeframe when they think they might turn the corner on coronavirus?

LANGFITT: Yes. Johnson says he thinks that these measures are working, will flatten the curve. He says he hopes they can turn the corner in about 12 weeks. We'll have to see how that goes. That's a long time for a lot of people. But certainly, we're seeing that elsewhere.

KELLY: Thank you, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Mary Louise.

KELLY: NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
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