Khan Steps Up London Covid Fight to Avert ‘Catastrophic’ Tier 3
(Bloomberg) -- London Mayor Sadiq Khan beefed up the policing of Covid rules and announced more community testing in the capital in an effort to avoid having the city placed under the U.K.’s toughest virus restrictions.
Some 85 new test centers will be rolled out across the capital, including 45 mobile units, Khan’s office said in a statement. They’re additional to plans announced Thursday by Health Secretary Matt Hancock to mass test secondary school pupils and their families in parts of London and the neighboring counties of Kent and Essex.
The new measures come after fresh data showed the U.K. capital has the highest rate of cases in England, putting the capital on course to move up to Tier 3, the toughest of the government’s three layers of restrictions. That would see all pubs, bars, restaurants and indoor entertainment venues closed. Khan warned in his statement of a “long winter ahead of us.”
“Nobody wants the capital to face Tier 3 restrictions: it would be catastrophic for our pubs, bars, restaurants and culture venues,” Khan said. “But with cases rising, we are now at a tipping point, which is why we all have a responsibility to do everything we can to get on top of the virus by following the rules.”
The extra testing facilities include 40 permanent centers as well as 45 mobile units, 35 of which will deploy so-called “lateral flow” tests, which deliver results within minutes rather than having to be sent to laboratories for analysis.
Khan’s plans also include increased engagement with residents by police and Covid marshals, greater enforcement of mask-wearing on the capital’s buses and subway, and more signs in high streets and shopping centers. the efforts will focus on east and northeast London, the worst-hit areas.
The mayor also said he’d seek support from the central government to enhance local contact tracing and to increase financial aid to those self-isolating, including raising payments to reflect the higher cost of living in the capital than in other parts of the country.
The capital’s lawmakers Thursday joined a Zoom call with Health Minister Helen Whately and Public Health England’s London director, Kevin Fenton. They were told that Covid-19 rates in the city are rising and compare badly with other regions currently in Tier 3, the top level of curbs, according to two people familiar with the meeting.
The U.K. capital had a rate of 191.8 cases per 100,000 population in the week ending Dec. 6, Public Health England said Thursday. That compared to 158.4 in the West Midlands region, where case rates have fallen the most. Districts in the east of the city have the highest case rates, while wealthier areas in the west and center have much lower rates.
Hancock said he’s “particularly concerned” about the number of cases in London, as well as areas of Kent and Essex bordering the capital. He said that while he won’t “pre-empt” the government’s decision when it reviews the tiers Dec. 16, the number of cases is “worrying” in those areas.
The tier review comes ahead of a relaxation of the rules over Christmas -- between Dec. 23 and 27 -- when people will be free to move across the U.K. and three households will be permitted to join together in a bubble to celebrate.
Medics have warned this could mean a resurgence in the virus in January and February, meaning some regions could be stuck in Tier 3 for weeks. Documents from the government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies suggest that five days of tighter restrictions may be needed to balance out the effect on transmission of every day of relaxed rules.
“If people go too far, the Christmas period is going to be a period of risk everywhere,” England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said. “We need to actually keep a close eye on that.”
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