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As UK schools and pubs close, London avoids lockdown for now

London is not under lockdown, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered schools, pubs, and other social venues to close, except for delivery and take out, and people have been warned to stay indoors whenever possible. Frank Langfitt, NPR correspondent and author of “The Shanghai Free Taxi: Journeys with the Hustlers and Rebels of the New China," joins Hari Sreenivasan with more.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    London is not under lockdown, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered schools, pubs and other social venues to close except for delivery and take out, people have been warned to stay indoors whenever possible. Joining us now is NPR's Frank Langfitt. Frank, what street do we find you on outside of London?

  • Frank Langfitt:

    I'm on the High Street, it's basically what we call the main street here in the United Kingdom, in a town called Weybridge. It's upstream on the Thames, about 16, 17 miles outside of London.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And what's it like there? I mean, I see traffic going by. I see pedestrians.

  • Frank Langfitt:

    I'm I'm a little surprised, Hari. I thought that more people would be inside. What's really interesting is that there are even some cafes here and maybe a restaurant or two that are not paying attention to what Boris Johnson, the prime minister, said last night, which is he wants people, wants cafes, bars and restaurants to close.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So how seriously are people taking this? Are their runs on stores?

  • Frank Langfitt:

    Yeah, there are. In some places they've been really stripped bare and people have been shocked by that. There was a video recently by a nurse, a nurse in the National Health Service who was blind. She had just gotten off a 48-hour shift. Couldn't buy any fruits and vegetables. But the grocery store right down the street was not too bad. There was a security guard actually guarding the wine and beer, which was interesting. Most of the vegetable and fruit were bought, but there was meat. So it varies. One thing is that the supermarkets here are now saying they're going to hire more than thirty thousand temporary workers to try to deal with the incredible demand.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What's going on with the overall economy? I mean, when people make school closures, they have to stick around, who's going to stay home with the kids? What are the ripple effects there?

  • Frank Langfitt:

    The ripple effects are really big. A lot of, of course most pubs and restaurants will shut down, I think, across the country which will technically throw, I would imagine, hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people out of work. What the government has said yesterday is they're going to make an unprecedented effort. They're going to give employers who are willing to furlough their workers, they can give them enough money to pay up to 80 percent of workers salaries for the next few months. And so what they're really, really concerned about here is the economy was not super before this happened. They don't want to see tons and tons of people fall into debt.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This comes at a time when, well, Brexit is still part of the equation.

  • Frank Langfitt:

    Absolutely. I mean, at the end of this year, and it's not clear there may be another Brexit extension. Because this is an extraordinary situation. But at the end of this year, the United Kingdom was going to stop having its normal trading relationship with the EU. And there was no doubt that if that happened, that it would hurt this economy. I think now, given where we are, it's hard to imagine.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Tell me just briefly the importance of pubs. I mean, people here might say, well, so what, bars are closed. But pubs perform a kind of a different function there.

  • Frank Langfitt:

    They do. I mean, I I'm a great fan of pubs and they are a place where lots of people gather in the neighborhood. It so much is a part of the culture, particularly after work on a weekeday and uncertainly on a Friday night. And so to shut down pubs is a huge deal here. Very different than just shutting down bars in America. They're both very much on the part of the social fabric and also Hari part of the group identity.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. NPR's Frank Langfitt joining us outside London. Thanks so much.

  • Frank Langfitt:

    Happy to do it, Hari.

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