As I write it is 20 March and I have the impression of being on a bit of a cusp. There seem to be two realities coexisting at the moment. On the one hand, sports events, concerts, conferences, trips and meetings have been cancelled pretty much across the board. The roads are so quiet that my 1-hour cycle to work is only taking 45 minutes. At work, everyone is staying at opposite ends of the room from each other (although there was one point when three of us converged to look at something on a colleague’s screen, and she sat there getting tenser and tenser until she suddenly burst out “You are all standing TOO CLOSE!” and we all jumped back as if electrocuted). The stairs have become a one-way system: if two people approach each other in the stairway, one reverses and withdraws into a doorway to allow the other to pass without breaching the mandated “social distance”.
On the other hand, shops are still open, and although they’re a bit quieter than usual (apart from supermarkets, on which more in this post) they still feel pretty normal. For the most part people are neither wearing masks nor making any apparent attempt to “socially distance”. My brother sent me a message the other morning saying that on his way to work the London Bridge area looked like a ghost town – then at lunchtime he sent another one to report that the restaurants, bars and pubs had all filled up. (“What is wrong with these people???”)
Of course, the people that you see are the ones who are out and about and acting as if it’s business as usual. You don’t see all the people who have shut themselves in at home. So even though things are not functioning as usual, it can feel as if they sort of are.