As Britain opens up its pubs, hairdressers, and gyms, optimism is in the air. But the news that a significant cluster of the South African coronavirus variant has been found in south London has cast a cloud over the reopening there.

Officials are deploying surge testing in the boroughs of Wandsworth and Lambeth after 44 confirmed and 30 probable cases were identified. Danish Perwez, 33, who works for Lambeth Dry Cleaners & Laundry, has read about it in the news and is now worried about the variant spreading and the threat to his customers.

“Everybody wants businesses to go back to normal. All the precautions should be taken before easing the lockdown,” he says. “If the situation is going to get worse, the government should wait. Instead of suffering the whole year, if we only have to suffer a couple of more weeks, it will be much better.”

As part of an essential business, Perwez has been working since the second lockdown was first enforced in November. He had hoped, with hospitality operating for the first time in months, more people would get dressed up for messy nights out – and ultimately – more dry cleaning.

However, the variant has given him pause for thought. “We should learn from our past. Because if we are going to have more mixing, and not follow the precautions, then it’s going to take even longer.”

Beth Forbes, a barista at The Parlour, in Herne Hill, south London
Beth Forbes, a barista at The Parlour, in Herne Hill, south London. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

Beth Forbes, 61, works as a barista at The Parlour, in Herne Hill, south London. She said she felt “confused” by the numbers of cases reported in Lambeth. “They say it’s 40 cases, but how do they know? It could be 50, or even 60. It could be loads!”

She is enthusiastic to participate in the mass testing scheme – “I would get a test. Absolutely. Why not?” – and like many of those who work in hospitality, is delighted that customers are returning, “They’re lovely, and really, really nice around here.”

But she feels “concern” at the possibility of another wave and potential lockdown. “Judging by what I’ve heard in Europe, they’ve got loads of cases, and they’ve been locked down again. I can understand it was the first day and people wanted a pint in the pub, but they’re all packed together like sardines, and it just doesn’t make sense.”

Ty Lamont taking a walk in Brockwell Park.
Ty Lamont taking a walk in Brockwell Park. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

In Brockwell Park, Brixton, Ty Lamont, 35, and Shelby Davis, 31, are taking a walk to “chill” from the stress of lockdown. “There should be more testing. After all it’s a public virus,” says Lamont.

Davis, who is a trained chef, says the coronavirus guidelines boil down to “personal hygiene”, adding: “When you’re trained as a chef, you have your outdoor clothes and your indoor clothes. How is this not in any of the guidelines? It’s all a matter of personal hygiene.

“The fact we don’t stand 2 metres apart when introducing yourself to someone from the get go, should tell you something.”

Lina Sleptsova, 21, a student the London College of Communications.
Lina Sleptsova, 21, a student the London College of Communications. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

Lina Sleptsova, 21, a student the London College of Communications, and Harry Cook, 23, a police officer, were also at Brockwell Park. Sleptsova is more optimistic as lockdown eases: “I think I got sick when the new Covid variant came up in December. I am worried because, what if they close everything again?”

Both Sleptsova and Cook feel strongly about getting tested for the new variant. But what about their friends? “A lot of my friends will succumb to the pressure, so I feel like they will!” says Sleptova. “They aren’t very opinionated. I think they’ll say, ‘Oh well, if I have to do it, then I guess I will.’ For my friends, if it’s right, they’ll do it.”

For Cook, it’s “difficult to say,” whether he is truly worried about the effect of the lockdown easing. “The cases are coming down, they’ve been coming down for a long time now. We can’t stay in lockdown forever.”

“There’s no real telling what’s going to happen is there?” he adds. “It’s all very uncertain.”

This content first appear on the guardian

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