19 Apr Crowds surge back to London West End as lockdown curbs eased
On Saturday — the first since the reopening of “non-essential” retail and outdoor hospitality last Monday — the crowds of shoppers, diners and drinkers were 70 per cent of “normal” for April according to latest footfall figures from business group New West End Company.
It was a far more enthusiastic return than for the reopening after the first lockdown last June with more than double the numbers of visitors seen then.
Yesterday was slightly more subdued but with footfall still running at better then 60 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. Over the first week as a whole, numbers of visitors were 54 per cent of normal.
New West End chief executive Jace Tyrrell said: “It’s wonderful to see so many people back in the West End to visit their favourite shops once again. We are thrilled to see that footfall for the first week was above what we expected and believe that this reflects the public’s desire to safely reconnect with family and friends and enjoy their favourite brands once again, and also the resilience of the area.
“We hope that footfall continues to increase in a safe and sustainable way but, until international shoppers return, the West End will continue to need extra government support.”
Separate figures from analysts Springboard showed a similar picture with footfall across Greater London last week running at more than 75 per cent of the same week in 2019.
Restaurants said they were delighted with the levels of booking and spending over the weekend.
Eroshan Meewella, co-founder of Sri Lankan restaurant Kolamba in Soho, said: “We’ve had an insane response to being back open this weekend. Despite only having 16 seats outside we did 116 covers on Saturday — and both Friday and Sunday were packed out too with 98 covers on Sunday. We have sold a lot of alcohol as well. More was drunk on Friday night outside with far less covers than we would have inside on a normal Friday evening.”
Ollie Dabbous, executive at Mayfair’s Hide restaurant, where 500 people were served breakfast, lunch or dinner on a pavement terrace over the weekend said: “It was very very busy, and everyone was up for a good time. It was a lot more leisurely, less structured than indoor eating with a lot more beer being drunk than normal.”
However, there remain deep concerns that central London’s recovery will be hobbled by staff shortages and only a slow and partial return of office workers to their desks.
Ros Morgan, chief executive of the Heart of London Business Alliance, said: “There is more to do, because when London succeeds, so does the rest of the UK. That is why we need the Government to pull out all the stops now to support London — prioritising a bespoke recovery plan for London to kickstart its economy once more, promoting our capital as a great and safe place to visit with incentives for people to return, and ensuring public transport is clean, safe and accessible.”
A group of senior London business leaders today wrote to Boris Johnson calling for an urgent update on the review of social distancing measures.
The letter, organised by lobby group London First, from leading business figures including Paul Barnes, chief executive of the Association of International Retail, and Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said: “You often fondly recall from your time as Mayor of London the wonderful attractions that the city has to offer.
“The sooner we can open up and get people back the sooner we can all experience them again — and to do that we need to have the conclusions of the social distancing review. We urge you to publish it as soon as possible; the viability of so many businesses depend on it.”
Meanwhile, Jeremy King, chief executive of Corbin & King which runs venues such as The Wolseley in central London, told the Financial Times he had expected to need only around 20 new staff ahead of reopening but now had 130 roles to fill because of staff shortages.
The problem has been exacerbated by Brexit which led to a flight of European workers at the start of the pandemic, and the rules of the furlough scheme. This prevents employees from working for the employer that applied for the support.
It comes as NHS England data revealed a total of 35,882,008 Covid-19 vaccinations took place in England between December 8 and April 17, including first and second doses, which is a rise of 570,975 on the previous day.
NHS England said 27,559,381 were the first dose of a vaccine, a rise of 112,095 on the previous day, and 8,322,627 were a second dose, an increase of 458,880.
The figures reveal a total of 4,403,535 jabs were given to people in London between December 8 and April 17, including 3,388,656 first doses and 1,014,879 second doses.
The Government said a further 10 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of yesterday, bringing the UK total to 127,270.