England is one of the European countries that still has a firm grip on the corona crisis. Anyone who still travels to the Kingdom from abroad must therefore go into quarantine at home for two weeks after arrival. Specifically, this means: house arrest! Sightseeing, shopping, walks – all strictly prohibited.
This is why tourists are not drawn to the island. Flights to London still go regularly from Germany. A few days ago I was on board the Eurowings machine that started from Düsseldorf to London Heathrow at 10.20 a.m. Because of a bereavement, I had traveled to Düsseldorf a week earlier from England, where I live.
What immediately stands out: there is little going on at the gate. While the usual long line had formed on my outward journey from London to Düsseldorf before boarding, the few travelers to England stroll through the ticket control on Friday at a leisurely pace. "Please wear a mask and keep a distance of … – silence -" the terminal voice always reminds incompletely. The announcement seems to be stuck.
Despite fewer passengers, it suddenly gets cozy on board
It gets cozy on board the Boeing despite fewer passengers, because the seats have not been allocated so that as many as possible have a row for themselves, instead several rows are completely occupied and others are empty. I sit at 11C, a young woman next to me, a pregnant woman at the window. Anyone who wanted could take a hand disinfectant wipe after getting in before squeezing into their place.
As soon as the boarding is complete, the run begins. To the displeasure of the crew, whose facial features, like everyone else, are hidden behind face masks. As is emphasized again and again, they are mandatory. If oxygen masks fall off the ceiling in an emergency, you must remove them before putting them on, explains the crew at the safety dance.
Some also take it off to eat. Because the sale of on-board snacks does not stand still in Corona times. It feels strange to sit very close to strangers after weeks of distance. Even if they wear a mask. This is probably due to the fact that everyday corona in England differs more clearly from normal than in Germany. For example, I haven't been to a store other than a supermarket for weeks. Because non-essential stores have only reopened here on Monday.
Yawning emptiness at the largest airport in Europe
Narrowing in the half-empty plane is followed by yawning emptiness in the luggage hall after landing at Heathrow. The e-gates have closed at the border control. Everyone must show their passport at a counter. Do you have a non-British – like me – along with a form that shows that you have indicated online where you will spend the two-week quarantine.
"Pull down your mask for me," the border inspector asks me while eyeing my passport to compare the photo. It makes sense, I think. In Germany I was able to keep my mask at the passport control both on entry and on departure.
I notice that a different wind is blowing in the matter of Corona in England than in Germany when I walk to the railways: cafes, restaurants, the small duty free shop on the way to the arrival hall: almost everything is closed here. The “Heathrow Terminal 1,2” subway station is empty at 11 a.m. on a Friday. I have never experienced this before and the word "ghost train" comes to mind. Three bored Tube employees help me nicely at the ticket machine.
In the tube it becomes almost ghostly
For some stations I have a wagon to myself. But then others get closer to the city center. I've hardly seen the tube so empty – certainly not on a Friday. And certainly not at nodes like Victoria. Most passengers wear the mandatory face mask, which is handed out in many stations. However, you can always see those who ignore all signs and drive without a face mask.
Maybe they just want to get back a bit of normalcy. I can understand them somehow, because without the bustle of London, the corona situation in the tube feels strangely serious.