London, Oct 16 (EFE) .- Few experiences of modern life are more alienating than moving around the City of London at rush hour. Until now. The great global heart of finance languishes with the pandemic and threatens to be empty … forever?
Sweetings Restaurant has served fresh fish and oysters on the very corner of the City for 131 years. It is, say its owners, the oldest of its kind in London.
Today Sweetings is fighting for his life. And it is no exception in the so-called Square Mile, the 2.6 square kilometers where some of the brightest minds are concentrated and the largest fortunes in the world are managed.
“It will be very difficult for several more months, but we will have to remain strong, be as flexible as we can and try to survive,” George Stylianou, the store’s manager, told EFE.
After six months closed, on September 16 the restaurant decided to reopen its doors and, dropwise, some regular customers began to return. But new restrictions on social contact that take effect this Saturday will hit the business even more.
A THIRD OF CUSTOMERS
The number of customers in cafes, restaurants and shops in the City during the first week of October was less than a third of the levels registered before the arrival of the coronavirus, according to an investigation carried out by the newspaper “Financial Times”.
The figure contrasts with the percentage in the country as a whole, where the influx to hotels and entertainment venues stood at 70% compared to the pre-ndemic.
The meager advances that the summer brought and the campaign then launched by the British Government to incite Londoners to eat out are fading in a matter of hours.
City Corporation Political Director Catherine McGuinness said at a recent conference that it is too early to determine what the long-term impact will be on smaller businesses, but she was confident in the “innovative nature” of the financial district. to overcome the challenge.
If studies and prophecies proliferate around the world that try to draw what the cities of the future will be like, the City, as on so many occasions, takes advantage and presents itself as a test bed.
Swiss investment bank UBS is experimenting with Microsoft’s virtual reality glasses, the HoloLens, to allow its operators to work from home in an environment as similar as possible to a crowded financial market, according to the FT.
His company does not intend to immerse the Spaniard Alfonso Jiménez in a parallel world – at least not yet – but, as one of the thousands of employees in the City who must continue to telecommute indefinitely, he sees nothing but advantages to his new situation.
“Since we were sent home in March, I have not set foot in the City again. I would not return for the world. Even the people who resisted at first have changed their minds,” says this Sevillian engineer who works for an insurance company in one of the most iconic skyscrapers in London, known as the “Walkie Talkie”.
The chaos of rush hour, the problems eating – “you can’t even leave the office because that’s an anthill” -, or the scarcity of public transport – “one of my colleagues spent 500 pounds a month on trains just to go to work “- they are just a bad memory for Jiménez.
“I love London, but I don’t like the City: neither as a place nor as an idea”, underlines this engineer who has lived in the British capital for 17 years and who now considers spending long periods in other countries while keeping his job.
DESERT OF ASPHALT AND CRYSTAL
Jiménez’s dream may not come true, or at least not entirely. It will depend on the evolution of the pandemic, scientific advances for its eradication and the analysis that the financial giants make of teleworking.
But at ground level, in the desert of asphalt and glass that the district has become, there is a stark reality. Nobody knows this better than the fast food chain that has established itself in the financial districts of the big capitals, Pret A Manger.
The multinational has started selling its coffee on Amazon, among other emergency resources to overcome a crisis that has already led it to lay off a third of its staff in the United Kingdom.
In one of their establishments in the City, which number dozens, Jordi and Ariana kill time as they can while waiting for customers. In a room of hundreds of square meters, “today ten people have entered at the same time, at most,” they say.
“In summer, government aid to eat in restaurants was noticed, but the new restrictions have caused the influx to drop again,” explains Ariana.
Faced with such a scenario, the evidence is imposed: “The City is no longer what it used to be,” says Adnan Awan, an employee in a telephone store, “but it will improve.”
And he looks back and forth, searching for a soul, before launching his reflection: “It is not known when there will be a vaccine. It could take years, it could never come. People will eventually have to adapt. We live in a new world, and it’s not the one we lived in a few months ago. If there is no vaccine, we will literally have to get used to it. ” EFE
er / jmc