Breath of freedom in London - without QR code scanning and face masks

Two days in London gave us a few breaths of freedom, a glimpse of a life without face masks, queues, codes and grumbling from security guards. However, from November 30, worried about the possible rapid spread of the Covid-19 Omicron strain in the UK, stricter requirements are being introduced - face masks must be worn on public transport and in shops.
01.12.2021. LSLīva Sila
 
©Līva Sila

Before travelling to London, you must fill in a Passenger Locator Form electronically.

As you need to take the Covid-19 antigen test while in the UK, I ordered it in advance to the address of my accommodation in London. And of course, you must not forget the digital Covid-19 certificate, which I also kept printed out just in case. However, I only had to show this certificate once during the whole trip - at Riga airport.

In the airport café, it's just like before Covid

Even though it is lunchtime, Riga Airport is not hectic and there are few people. Everyone is wearing masks, staff and passengers alike. As I boarded the plane, I realized that the café did not ask me and others for my QR code. It was a stressful boarding time for one family, parents with two children, who, it turned out, would not be allowed on the plane unless they had filled in the Passenger Locator Form electronically. With the help of kind staff and thanks to Latvia's fast internet, the family was able to board the plane at the last minute.

Upon taking my seat, a flight attendant with an unusual accent and a shrill voice asks people to wear face masks for the duration of the flight. Most passengers ignore this request, and I remain one of the few who dutifully breathes the dry air of the plane through a mask.

Warning signs on clothing

I take my first steps on British soil and feel welcome, the weather is warm, and the sun is blinding. At the tiny Stansted airport, communication with staff is replaced by technology that does everything for them - first my passport was scanned, then myself, the biometrics match and the gates open. Needless to say, I never took my vaccination certificate out of my bag. Masks are worn here by those who think they should. A girl in the bus queue has a badge pinned to her coat: "I am not vaccinated, but I keep a distance of 2 m."

THE TUBE. A group of children in the Tube attracted attention by using face masks / Līva Sila

When you get on the bus, the driver asks you to fasten your seat belts and wear a face mask. I found that there were more people who fastened their seat belts than those who put on a face mask. The driver is entertaining and talks about the surroundings, jokes around, and the thought pops into my head: "Drivers in Latvia wouldn't do that, they probably aren't as overworked here in England."

I get out in the center of London, walk a few dozen meters, and I'm at Buckingham Palace, it seems logical to go and see it first. The square is full of people, few people have masks here, I take a few selfies to show my parents, and off I go.

Until November 29 - no masks or QR code scanning

CHURCH WITH ZONES. London's oldest church, built in 675, with zones for visitors who wish to keep their distance / Līva Sila

You can almost forget about QR codes and wearing a mask when you're in London. Nowhere and no one makes a fuss about it. At every café or supermarket I visit, my eyes habitually search for a security guard who will scan my code and check my documents. There are none here. Even in supermarkets similar in size to RIMI or Maxima, people move freely, and masks are rarely seen here except on some of the staff. Smaller outlets and eateries operate as it was in the old, pre-Covid days. Distancing is also mostly a free choice. A group of several dozen tourists crowds around the guide on the not very wide bridge that gives access to the interior of the Tower of London fortress. On the Tube and buses, the distancing option is also dictated by the number of passengers, and at rush hour it is rather the exception. A sign on one side of London's oldest church says that this section is reserved for those who wish to keep their distance.

However, due to a new strain of coronavirus, the restrictions will be stricter from November 30. Face masks will again have to be worn in shops and on public transport, and travelers will have to take the Covid-19 test and isolate themselves until they get negative results. In the UK, two cases of the new coronavirus strain have been detected so far yesterday, one in Nottingham and the other near London.

What to do with the antigen test I ordered?

NO MASKS. You could enter a Tesco grocery store without scanning the QR code and wearing a face mask / Līva Sila

I went to the hotel, and what bliss it was for my tired feet when I realized that the hotel was just a two-minute walk from the metro station. A view to the left, a little greeting to the Queen through the trees of Hyde Park. A nice Asian woman greets me with such hospitality that you'd think she'd been counting the minutes until I walked through the door. She hands me the room key and the antigen test I ordered. I decide to take the test only when someone asks me, the first day counts as day zero, the test has to be done on or before the second day of my stay, but no one could answer whether I should do it if I leave on the first day.

WELCOME TO LATVIA. When returning to Latvia, face masks must be worn in public places. How people comply with this requirement is another matter / Līva Sila

So, not having understood whether the antigen test was necessary or not in such cases, I decided to do it if they tell me to do it. Since nobody was interested in my test, it came back to Latvia with me, still packed and unused. To be used in the future if the need arises.

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