Coronavirus tightens its grip on London and EU

By Tyla Harrington

Former Riverine Herald deputy editor – and now Shepparton News editor – TYLA HARRINGTON is working at the London Times on a two-month posting. She arrived in the UK in time for the world’s first pandemic since Spanish influenza killed more than 20 million at the end of World War I and filed this story from London overnight.

LONDON is a shadow of its former glory as the city that never sleeps prepares for hibernation.

When I arrived here six weeks ago the capital of England was as it always had been – busy, bustling and difficult for a girl from regional Victoria to keep up with.

Today everything is as it was; and yet everything has changed.

Transport is still running; restaurants and businesses are open and there are people who are going about their normal lives – albeit hesitantly – as coronavirus starts to take hold of the country.

As of Sunday night 35 had died and more than 1300 have Covid-19 in the UK – and the figures are rising faster than officials predicted.

Many shelves are empty despite retailers warning against panic buying, plans could be accelerated to make the elderly and vulnerable stay at home for several months, others are self-isolating and many employees are working from their homes.

Along with rest of the world, the city started panicking weeks ago.

I watched two grown men nearly get into a fight on a bus because one apparently sneezed on the other when confirmed cases were in the hundreds.

“You are crazy,” said the man who was apparently sneezed on, before adding, “you know what you did”.

Mothers have resorted to covering their prams with plastic to protect their children and people avoid touching surfaces – and are reminded by the government’s campaign to wash their hands at every opportunity.

Those who aren’t wearing masks have scarves around their neck to cover their mouths. Those who choose not to cover their faces at all, can’t hide the uncertainty written all over it.

Events of more than 500 people have been cancelled and many from Australia here on two-year visas are packing their bags and cutting their trip short.

Police could be restricted to only responding to incidents involving loss of life and the National Health Service, the publicly funded healthcare system in England, is trying desperately to stop the spread of misinformation.

Ministers are preparing to cut back train services as passenger numbers fall by 30-50 per cent and operators risk going bust and the Queen has postponed her fourth coming public engagement.

In Italy the situation is catastrophic as almost 400 new deaths were recorded on Sunday – the largest number of fatalities in a day since the start of the outbreak was recorded. More than 1800 people have died in the country, which is the hardest-hit by the virus in Europe with 24,700 cases. It might have the oldest population in Europe but it is sending a message to the rest of the world of how quickly this virus can spread.

One thing is clear, this is not a drill.

And time, as excruciating as it is to wait for, will only tell what happens next.

Be kind to one another, be patient and, most importantly, look after those who need it most.