London Set for Toughest Covid Rules as Soon as Wednesday

Ministers are preparing to impose the toughest coronavirus restrictions on London from as early as Wednesday as infections spread out of control, under plans being drawn up by the U.K. government.

According to people familiar with the matter, the British capital city will be put into tier 3, the highest level of curbs, after infections and hospitalization rates soared.

Health officials briefed members of Parliament on the plans, as the city’s mayor Sadiq Khan called for schools to close and face coverings to be made compulsory in shopping streets to stem a surge in cases.

One MP -- Rupa Huq -- said the whole of London and parts of some surrounding areas will be put into tier 3 from Wednesday. Huq said Health Secretary Matt Hancock informed MPs of the move in a call on Monday. People people familiar with the government’s thinking also said they expected the city will move into tier 3 from Wednesday or Thursday.

A switch to tier 3 would see London’s pubs, bars, restaurants and indoor entertainment venues forced to close in a huge blow to businesses -- just days before the U.K. is given a five-day relaxation of the rules over Christmas. Between Dec. 23 and 27, people are free to mingle with two other households indoors, which doctors have warned will lead to a rise in infections and hospitalization rates over January and February.

‘Terrible Blow’

Jasmine Whitbread, Chief Executive Officer of London First, an industry group for the capital’s businesses, called the move “a terrible blow to the capital’s hospitality, leisure and cultural sectors” and called on the government to support businesses forced to close so that they can “survive into the New Year.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman, Jamie Davies, told reporters Monday that while the government has no plans to review the Christmas rules, “the public should continue to be cautious.”

The latest data show infection levels have gone up in all 32 London districts in the week through Dec. 8, and only 5 have rates lower than the U.K. average.

On the call with Whately, who was joined by two senior public health officials, some MPs expressed anger at the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in London. Labour’s Neil Coyle said later on Twitter that children and businesses “have been let down so badly.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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