Londoners have shrugged off a resurgent COVID-19 pandemic and flocked to pubs and restaurants hours before the introduction of a new month-long lockdown across England.
While the UK’s death toll from the coronavirus rose on Wednesday by 492, the highest increase since mid-May, London’s Soho entertainment district was busy with revellers seeking one last night out.
People will be ordered to stay home from Thursday morning to combat a surge in new infections that scientists say could, if unchecked, cause more deaths than a first wave that forced a three-month lockdown.
The United Kingdom has the biggest official death toll in Europe from COVID-19 and is grappling with more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases a day.
Scientists warn the “worst-case” scenario of 80,000 dead could be exceeded without action.
Even before Wednesday, data from restaurant bookings service OpenTable showed a surge in demand for London eateries during the run-up to the new lockdown.
Several English police forces used social media to urge people going out on Wednesday night to follow social-distancing rules.
The rest of the UK – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – have their own lockdown policies and enacted tougher restrictions last month.
British MPs approved the month-long lockdown in England earlier on Wednesday, voting in favour of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan.
The 516-38 vote had been in little doubt after the opposition said they would support the move, even though they criticised Johnson for acting too slowly.
He was also criticised by some in his own party who said a general lockdown was too severe.
“None of us came into politics to tell people once again to shutter their shops, to furlough their staff or stay away from their friends and family,” Johnson told parliament in an attempt to calm rebels within his Conservative Party.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said: “While these regulations are not in any way desirable or perfect, they are now necessary because the government has lost control of the virus.”
Some in Johnson’s own party, however, voted against the plan.