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These Photos Show How Lockdown Has Stilled Bustling London Life

By Associated Press

04.06.20

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These stitched-together images show the Red Arrows flying over Buckingham Palace during the annual Trooping the Colour Ceremony in London on Saturday, June 8, 2019 (R), and the empty scene taken from the same angle on Wednesday, April 1, 2020 (L). 

Photo by AP Photo/Frank Augstein

These stitched-together images show the Red Arrows flying over Buckingham Palace during the annual Trooping the Colour Ceremony in London on Saturday, June 8, 2019 (R), and the empty scene taken from the same angle on Wednesday, April 1, 2020 (L). 

Images of London before and after the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown reveal how drastically life has changed in the British capital.

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When Associated Press photographer Frank Augstein moved to London in 2015, what struck him most was the crowds. Augstein, who grew up in a small town in western Germany, thought Britain’s capital of almost 9 million people was the busiest place he had ever seen.

In years of covering political dramas, moments of celebration and tragedy and major sporting events, Augstein’s photographs have captured the city’s ceaseless movement: Pedestrians swarming over the Millennium Footbridge spanning the River Thames. Travelers from the United Kingdom and continental Europe thronging St. Pancras railway station. Commuters following London transit etiquette by carefully ignoring one another on a crowded Tube train or waiting patiently in a snaking bus queue.

A combo of images shows pedestrians strolling over the Millennium bridge in London on Tuesday, February 16, 2016, and an empty view from the same angle taken on Wednesday, April 1, 2020.

Amid the edifices of British monarchy and government, he captured tourists photographing Parliament’s Big Ben tower as the giant bell sounded for the last time before falling silent for years of repairs. Crowds outside Buckingham Palace, craning for a glimpse of soldiers Trooping the Colour to mark the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. A group of children greeting Larry, cat-in-residence at the prime minister’s 10 Downing Street home.

Everywhere, there were people. Shoppers ambled between stores amid the Georgian splendor of Regent Street. Fans poured out of Wembley Stadium after an NFL game. Londoners, embracing innovation as well as tradition, have embraced American football alongside the home-grown soccer variety.

People walking on a traffic-free Regent Street in London on Sunday, July 12, 2015, and an image of an empty street taken from the same angle on Wednesday, April 1, 2020.

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Augstein revisited those sites in recent days after Britain—like other countries around the world—went into effective lockdown to stem the spread of the new coronavirus. More than 42,000 people have been infected in Britain and over 4,300 have died, and health officials are warning that the peak of the outbreak is still days or weeks away.

He found the contrast surreal.

Commuters on the Piccadilly Line tube in London on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, and an empty compartment on the same London underground line taken on Thursday, April 2, 2020.

The office workers who cross the Millennium Bridge by the thousands each day to jobs in the financial district are now working from home. Parliament Square and the streets around Buckingham Palace are empty of tourists and vehicles. Regent Street’s stores are closed. Augstein found himself the only passenger on a Tube train that in normal times would be full. No one is queuing for buses these days.

A combo of photos shows fans approaching Wembley Stadium before an NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, October 27, 2019, in London and an image showing an empty Wembley Way taken on Wednesday, April 1, 2020.

Professional sports have been suspended and a jogger took advantage of the empty space around Wembley Stadium. A banner on the stadium thanking fans has been replaced with “Thank you NHS,” in tribute to the doctors, nurses, and other staff of Britain’s beloved yet beleaguered National Health Service who are battling the pandemic.

>> Next: What Life Looks Like in Locked-Down Countries