Cabinet split on Covid restrictions as Omicron cases rise fast in London

Image above: Boris Johnson; photograph Andrew Parsons / 10 Downing Street

There’s a distinct sense of déjà vu as the public braces itself for new announcements on Covid. Will Christmas be cancelled again?

The Guardian is reporting that Boris Johnson is understood to be looking at three options to try and curb the spread of the Omicron variant: limiting social mixing without legal enforcement, mandatory restrictions on household mixing, the return of social distancing, and forcing pubs and restaurants to close at 8pm and the third option of a full lockdown, a two-week ‘circuit breaker’.

As has happened before, the public seems to be ahead of the politicians, voting with their feet to cancel bookings for meals out, live entertainment and Christmas parties. The BBC reported a few days ago that schools are expecting to be closed down in January. More than 30 local authorities told the BBC that some classes had already moved online as a result of rising Covid rates.

Image above: Queue at the Clayponds community centre this weekend

Cabinet split

As has happened before, the Cabinet is split and sending out mixed messages. The FT is reporting that there is deadlock between ministers over whether to act to suppress Omicron rates before Christmas.

‘Boris Johnson on Monday faced a wave of cabinet opposition to new Covid-19 restrictions in England, forcing him to shelve decisions on a potential post-Christmas “circuit breaker” until ministers have seen new data.

‘The cabinet will meet again this week, and further data on the severity of the new variant is expected on Wednesday.’

Chancellor Rishi Sunak appears to be leading the charge against new Covid restrictions, while Health Secretary Sajid Javid is reportedly in favour. Speaking on Sunday, he said there was still a lot of “uncertainty” around the data as he refused to rule out introducing further restrictions before Christmas.

He has warned that the country is facing a “tsunami” of Omicron infections. More than two-thirds of Covid-19 cases in London are now estimated to be Omicron. Senior government scientists are saying extra restrictions are needed “within days” to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by Omicron.

Image above: Charing Cross hospital

Imperial College hospitals on ‘black alert’ as Omicron explodes in London

The Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust told The Chiswick Calendar they had been on ‘black alert’ twice in the past two weeks. They operate three alert levels – amber, red and black – which indicate when the main hospitals are experiencing ‘capacity pressures’. In other words, there have been a couple of times when keyhospitals were full. The hospitals in the Imperial group are Charing Cross, Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea, Hammersmith hospital, St Mary’s hospital and the Western Eye hospital.

There has been an explosion of Omicron cases in London, with cases up by 500% among young people in the capital according to analysis by the Evening Standard. Hospitals, clinics and pharmacies have been working overtime over the weekend to offer vaccinations, but even so London has had 140,000 confirmed Covid cases over the past week, to 19 December.

‘Of more concern, the rate is also now rising among older people in the capital who are more likely to get seriously ill from Covid’ the Standard reports.

‘The seven-day rate among Londoners aged 74-79 has risen 174 per cent, compared to December 1, from a low base of 59.6 confirmed cases per 100,000 in this age group to 163.4’.

Anecdotally people who have been vaccinated seem to be getting Covid less severely, but the Standard reports that hospitalisations are also steadily rising. There were 201 Covid patients admitted to London hospitals on December 15 compared to 132 on the same day the previous week.

Image above: Mayor of London Sadiq Khan

Sadiq Khan declares a ‘major incident’ – no New Year’s celebrations

On Saturday Sadiq Khan declared the huge surge of Covid in the capital a ‘major incident’, meaning that there will be closer coordination between the mayor’s office and key public services. On Monday he announced that New Year celebrations would not be going ahead in the interests of public safety. The event in Trafalgar Square had been planned for around 6,500 key workers and members of the public.

“The surge in cases of the Omicron variant across our capital is hugely concerning, so we are once again declaring a major incident because of the threat of Covid-19 to our city” he said on Saturday.

“We are already feeling the impact across the capital and while we are still learning about this variant, it’s right that London’s key agencies work closely together to minimise the impact on our city, including helping to protect the vital vaccination programme.”

London councils have begun preparing for a New Year lockdown as almost half the boroughs have seen cases double in a week. The areas seeing the biggest increases are the inner London boroughs which have the highest proportion of unvaccinated people:

Southwark, Islington, Tower Hamlets, Lambeth, Hackney and Wandsworth all saw Covid cases rise by more than 150% in the week ending December 14.

Haringey, Camden, Merton, Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Lewisham, Newham, Hammersmith and Fulham and Enfield all saw rates go up by over 100% on the previous week.

In west London, latest figures showed Hammersmith and Fulham had 2,654 cases, up 1,517 (133.4%) Case rate per 100,000 people 1,446.0.
Hounslow had 2,036 cases, up 713 (53.9%) Case rate per 100,000 people 749.2.
Ealing had 2990 cases, up 1,291 (76.0%) Case rate per 100,000 people 878.5.

Image above: coronavirus.data.gov.uk map showing Covid cases in Chiswick for the seven day period ending 15 December

New Covid cases in Chiswick – biggest rise in Bedford Park

In Chiswick, in the seven days to 15 December the figures looked like this:
Chiswick south west
Total cases 122, up 61 (100%) on the previous week. Case rate per 100,000 people: 1,472.2

Chiswick south east
Total cases 105, up 49 (87.5%) on the previous week. Case rate per 100,000 people: 1,185.8

Chiswick Park
Total cases 125, up 66 (111.9%) on the previous week. Case rate per 100,000 people: 1,403.2

Bedford Park
Total cases 109, up 75 (220.6%) on the previous week. Case rate per 100,000 people: 1,578.3

Chiswick north west
Total cases 100, up 55 (122.2%) on the previous week. Case rate per 100,000 people: 1,467.6

Chiswick north east
Total cases 127, up 72 (130.9%) on the previous week. Case rate per 100,000 people: 1,515.0

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