The iconic Abbey Road zebra crossing made famous by the 1969 Beatles album of the same name has been repainted while the streets of London are empty because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A highways maintenance crew quietly repainted the normally busy zebra crossing on 24 March, the day after the prime minister ordered Britain to go on lockdown in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus.

A spokesperson for Westminster City Council said: “This is a very busy zebra crossing and we repainted the line markings to ensure visibility and increased safety for drivers and pedestrians. Our contractors follow government advice on limiting the spread of covid-19, including social distancing and hand washing.”

The brightened markings can be seen in action on the Abbey Road webcam.

The government designated the crossing a site of national importance in 2010 and it can be altered only with the approval of local authorities. “This London zebra crossing is no castle or cathedral but, thanks to the Beatles and a 10-minute photoshoot one August morning in 1969, it has just as strong a claim as any to be seen as part of our heritage,” John Penrose, minister for tourism and heritage said at the time.

The remaining Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Abbey Road album with a deluxe reissue last September. In January, it was announced as the biggest selling vinyl record of the 2010s in the US. It came eighth in the UK, with British Beatles fans apparently preferring Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The cover for Abbey Road was shot at 11.35am on 8 August 1969, as John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr took a break from completing I Want You (She’s So Heavy) and The End, and Paul McCartney paused work on Oh! Darling. Standing on a step ladder in the middle of the road, photographer Iain Macmillan only had time to shoot six photographs on his Hasselblad camera given the oncoming traffic. McCartney selected the fourth image as the cover shot.

On the album’s release, fans became convinced that McCartney’s barefoot appearance related to the conspiracy theory that he had died two years earlier and been replaced by a ringer. He had in fact kicked off his sandals because it was hot.

“On Abbey Road we were wearing our ordinary clothes. I was walking barefoot because it was a hot day,” McCartney told Life magazine later that year. “Can you spread it around that I am just an ordinary person and want to live in peace?”

He parodied the theory on the cover of his 1993 live album, Paul Is Live, posing with a dog on the crossing. Pop cultural figures from the Simpsons to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Doctor Who have also re-enacted the image.

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