London Crisis Plan Invoked as U.K. Daily Covid Deaths Hit Record

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London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a “major incident” in the U.K. capital as the country’s daily coronavirus death toll reached the highest level since the start of the pandemic.

The U.K. recorded 1,325 deaths within 28 days of a positive test and 68,053 new cases on Friday, according to official data.

Khan warned the state-run National Health Service in London is at risk of being overwhelmed by a surge in the virus.

His announcement represents a stark verdict on the threat to the city’s 9 million residents as pressure mounts on hospitals and ambulance services. It will spark a more coordinated response from emergency services to tackle the crisis, his office said.

“The situation in London is now critical, with the spread of the virus out of control,” Khan said. “The number of cases in London has increased rapidly with more than a third more patients being treated in our hospitals now compared to the peak of the pandemic last April.”

Seeking Help

The mayor’s declaration of a major incident means special arrangements must now be made by emergency services to deal with the Covid crisis across the city. It also gives more weight to London authorities’ requests to seek additional help from the government.

Major incidents have been declared previously for the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, in which 72 people died, and terrorist attacks.

London Crisis Plan Invoked as U.K. Daily Covid Deaths Hit Record

With a more contagious strain of the disease taking hold, coronavirus is continuing to spread rapidly across the whole of England. Government estimates on Friday put the so-called R rate, which shows how fast the virus multiplies, between 1.0 and 1.4. The virus spreads exponentially when R is above 1.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is relying on an accelerated vaccine roll-out to ease pressure on the health service and return the U.K. back to normal. England was placed into its third national lockdown this week, with people ordered to stay home and schools shut to most pupils.

‘Serious Harm’

A major incident is defined officially as being “likely to involve serious harm, damage, disruption or risk to human life or welfare, essential services, the environment or national security.”

The mayor’s decision is a recognition of how serious the situation is in London, as well as a public health message underlining that Londoners must stay home to prevent the health service from being overwhelmed.

Matt Twist, deputy assistant commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, blamed a “small selfish minority who think the rules don’t apply to them” for accelerating the spread of the disease. Officers are still dealing with people holding house parties, large warehouse raves and other gatherings, he said.

“These are creating breeding grounds for the much more transmissible variant,” he said in a statement. “There can be no doubt that right now we find ourselves at a serious and dangerous crossroads for London; everyone must look at this news and understand that our health service is nearing breaking point.”

Bed Shortage

On Wednesday, the Health Service Journal reported London hospitals could run out of beds for intensive care patients within two weeks, citing a presentation by NHS England.

Government scientific advisers believe new infections in the U.K. are now above 100,000 a day, comparable or exceeding the first wave in the spring -- though that comparison is an estimate due to the lack of sufficient testing in the early weeks of the outbreak.

They also think infection rates will drop more slowly during and after the current lockdown than the first wave, due to the new faster-spreading strain that is threatening to overwhelm hospitals. Lower adherence to social-distancing rules is also understood to be slowing efforts to get the R rate below 1.

Scientists say there’s a danger people expect a quick end to the pandemic because of the vaccine program, but restrictions can only be lifted slowly due to the prevalence of the disease.

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