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Beyond the epidemic. London Tube battles to stay on track

LONDON (AP) – When London was shut down a year ago due to a nationwide coronavirus ban, the subway continued to serve as a main service. But it was a strange and disturbing experience for the workers.

Center Cox, the driver of the subway Circle Line that runs through the city center, said he could “count the number of people who boarded a train on one side.”

“It was amazing to see it at the top on Monday morning, which hardly anyone could see,” he said of the system opened in 1863, colloquially known as the Pipe.

Its continued operation was a sign that even in the face of the epidemic, London’s heart was still pounding.


Plagues, fires, wars – London has survived! But there has never been such a year. The coronavirus destroyed more than 15,000 Londoners and shook the foundations of one of the largest cities in the world. As the rapid mass vaccination campaign promises to reopen, the Associated Press looks at the effects of the epidemic on London’s institutions and asks what the future holds.


In a city where almost half of households do not have a car, public transit continues to shift economic and social life. On March 23, 2020, before the nationwide blockade, there were about 5 million daily tube trips. Its symbolic map, which resembles a multicolored board, is both a symbol of the city and an essential tool for residents and visitors.

In the early weeks, when most Britons were told to stay home for fear of being overwhelmed by the virus, Underground staff kept working but worried about getting sick.

“We did not know exactly how bad it was,” Cox said. “There were concerns about how dangerous this job was, you hear stories of people catching coronavirus in the subway. “So we did not know how fast it spread, how safe we ​​are.”

COVID-19 has severely damaged London transport, which runs the city’s metro and commuter rail network. At least 89 TFL employees have died from the coronavirus, most of them bus drivers, whose deaths are three times higher than the national average, according to a study by University College London.

The virus has hit public jobs hardest, and the death toll among ethnic minorities is higher than their white compatriots. The reasons are assumed to include jobs, underlying health conditions, and economic inequality.

About a third of the TFL workforce is ethnic, partly inherited from the thousands of former British colonies who came to the UK after World War II to promote the exhausted workforce.

Metro Customer Service Director Brian Woodhead says the network has been quick to protect staff and passengers. Masks are mandatory, hand sanitizers are plentiful, escalator handrails explode with UV-killing UV light, and one-way systems reduce station corridor accounts. Drivers on buses sit in sealed huts.

“As much as anyone can in the current situation, I think the Pipe is a safe environment,” Woodhead said.

He cites a recent study by Imperial College London, which tested for the presence of the virus on surfaces և in the air, in the subway area, ‘but did not find it. This is partly due to people like Ivelina Dimitrova, who oversees 20 cleaners at stations, including the busy Kings Cross. He and his staff, mostly immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa and South Asia, regularly spray the surfaces with a hospital-grade disinfectant.

“We had to change our routine և everything և (we) had to do it quickly,” he said when the virus hit, adding that they were constantly stressed about getting infected.

Now he said: “We have a strong morale because we feel we have to do what we can to keep ourselves, our families and other people around us safe.”

Passengers who used to pay little attention to the cleaning staff now stop occasionally to thank them.

The epidemic has left the world’s oldest subway system facing an uncertain future. Tube, which is heavily dependent on ticket revenue, is facing a cash crisis. Riding has fallen from the very beginning of the epidemic, reaching only 4% of pre-epidemic figures, and now carries about a quarter of the passengers before the outbreak.

At one last rush hour, a drop of passengers poured into the ticket gates, usually filled at Victoria և Kings Cross stations, past posters reminding travelers to wear face masks: “Be kind.”

Prime Minister Boris John Onson has set the country on a slow path out of a deadlock, with hairdressers and shops scheduled to reopen on April 12. However, people are still advised to work from home, if they can և only take the pipe if necessary.

His government has provided about 4 4 billion ($ 5.6 billion) in grants and loans to London to keep them afloat, although the money is due to expire on May 18. Mayor Sadik Khan, member of the Labor Party.

Woodhead expects the rating to increase, but “it’s 18 months or 36 months” is hard to predict. And the epidemic could finally change the way you travel, with more walking, cycling, less urgency.

An independent report commissioned by the mayor of TFL in December said the “reliable” forecast was that public transport demand would be reduced by 20% due to “travel changes and economic weakness” after the epidemic.

“People, I doubt very much, will not change five days a week,” Woodhead said. “Some will do. But now there are many people who do it in a hybrid way. It will certainly happen, which on the one hand will help in terms of congestion, but on the other hand will not help in terms of income. “

Still, Woodhead is confident that Tube will be a major part of London’s recovery.

“It’s just intertwined with the whole infrastructure, the way London works,” he said.

Drivers like Cox, meanwhile, will continue to do something that has become “a little more isolated, a little more isolated.”

“It’s nice to know that London is moving,” he said. “You do everything to get everything from A to B.”


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