A Pret sandwich can’t predict the pandemic, but its sales tell a story about how the world is unlocking

The switch from government control to personal responsibility is happening right across the globe, writes Hamish McRae

<p>Post-Covid commute: People wearing protective face masks walk along a platform at King's Cross Station</p>

Post-Covid commute: People wearing protective face masks walk along a platform at King's Cross Station

Guess what this race is about: London suburbs are in the lead, Hong Kong and the West End are coming up fast, Paris is well ahead of the City and Canary Wharf, New York Midtown is struggling and Wall Street is right at the back of the field.

It is the race back to the office, as measured by the performance of Pret A Manger locations vis-a-vis their pre-pandemic performance in January last year. Pret gives Bloomberg weekly data about their sales in major business centres around the world, hence the Pret Index. This gives a rough proxy for the numbers of people returning to central business districts – or in the case of London suburbs, probably working from home. Indeed those London suburbs are the only location where sales last week were above pre-pandemic levels. Hong Kong sales were at 83 per cent of the old normal, the West End was 75 per cent, Paris was at 71 per cent, the City and Canary Wharf at 51 per cent, then NYC Midtown at 37 per cent and NYC Downtown right down at 28 per cent of normal.

With this sort of fast data there are always two things to remember. One is that the numbers are raw. They tell the story as it is. This is not about what people say or think, or what their bosses say they should do. It is what they actually did last week.

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