Sense of normality returns to UK amid pandemic

Comment: The music of the night will be back, if Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber has anything to do with it.

The legendary producer of the Phantom of the Opera, and the owner of six theatres in London’s West End, has done a socially distanced performance trial this week.

He wants to prove that every theatre can be open, as long as people are socially distant, have their temperature tested as they enter and get sprayed with antiviral disinfectant on arrival.

The measures have been used in South Korea where theatres stayed open – with the Asian country keeping its economy going, avoiding harsh lockdowns but still keeping death rates low.

His trial on Thursday night made headlines across the UK and would be welcome news for the Australian actors in the Phantom of the Opera, including Josh Piterman, whose job of a lifetime has been shelved for months.

There’s a sense in the UK that things are starting to move forward, which feels strange as I read the headlines in Australia and talk to family and friends in lockdown there.

I visited Oxford Street, London’s main shopping high street this week after covering Johnny Depp’s court case for the day.

It wasn’t crazy busy like it can get during the Christmas rush, but there were a few more people around, who mainly appeared to be tourists as the UK opened travel earlier this month.

The pubs are open, the buskers are back and I’ve bought the same copy of The Big Issue twice so far – the magazine’s homeless vendors were among the hardest hit by the lockdown, with four months’ without pay.

Liverpool lifted its first Premier League trophy in 30 years, without fans in the stadium but quite a few gathered in the streets anyway.

Leeds United were promoted to the Premier League, a massive deal here and again there were a fair few breaking social distance rules.


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So far, there have been no major new spikes, including after thousands marched in London on the Black Lives Matter protests.

The news that the Oxford vaccine passed stage 2 trials with flying colours gave people some hope, and I have had plenty of conversations about it as people cling to the chance of a solution.

That could be on the streets before Christmas, with National Health Service staff potentially getting it by September when 30 million doses are due to roll off production lines.

Getting them into vials and then out to every corner of the UK will be a logistical challenge, which hopefully the government does better than they did with delivery of personal protection equipment even though it had some full warehouses.

In the meantime, everyone over 50 was due to get the flu shot for the garden variety bug that kills around 10,000 in the UK each year.

Boris Johnson has said we will be hugging by November – looks like he is betting Oxford’s Professor Sarah Gilbert is onto a winner.

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