Londoners expecting new Covid restrictions

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan says there is “no choice” but to introduce more measures to stop the spread of the Coronavirus. He met London council leaders on the afternoon of Monday 21 September and is expected to meet Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the morning of Tuesday 22 September, after which the Prime Minister will make a statement to parliament.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg is reporting that it sounds “very likely” that pubs and other venues in England will be forced to close at 10.00pm, alongside other measures.

Earlier on Monday the Government’s chief scientific and medical officers issued a statement saying that Britain is “heading in the wrong direction”. They warned that “we are at a “critical point in the pandemic” and that we could be looking at 50,000 new Covid-19 cases a day within weeks, if the current rates of infection are not brought down.

“New London plan”

Sadiq Khan said on Monday night:

“Without adequate testing or contact tracing in London we have no choice but to look at other measures to slow the spread of the virus. I firmly believe that acting early, rather than having to impose more stringent measures later, is the right thing to do both for public health and the economy.

“I have just met with local council leaders from all parties and public health experts to agree a new London plan to slow the spread of the virus and save Londoners lives. This includes some new restrictions. We will collectively be asking the Government to implement this plan as soon as possible and I will be discussing it with the Prime Minister tomorrow morning.

“I will be as clear as possible with Londoners about the full details and what it means for them as soon as it is agreed with Government.

“Stricter measures are needed”

After meeting with London Mayor Sadiq Khan, other borough leaders and public health experts, the Leader of Hounslow Council Steve Curran said last night:

“It’s clear that stricter measures are needed to slow the spread of coronavirus across the capital. Cases are rising exponentially and, with the current woefully inadequate test and trace system, extra steps need to be taken to protect our most vulnerable residents and control demand on hospitals”.

“If we act early we can hopefully save lives and reduce the likelihood of needing more stringent measures later. I urge the Prime Minister to listen to the collective voice of London and bring in the measures requested by the Mayor”.

Coronavirus “roughly doubling” each week

In Monday’s press briefing Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, said the UK could see 200 deaths every day if fast action is not taken to curb the spread of the disease.

Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, told the press conference that over the next six months we would have to continue to take the pandemic “collectively very seriously”.

Sir Patrick said the spread of the epidemic is “roughly doubling” in the UK every week. Professor Whitty added that the UK should “break unnecessary links between households”.

The rate of infection in London (total number of people with at least one lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 test result) is at 503.4 per 100,000 people since the beginning of the pandemic, compared with 927.7 in the North West, 762.1 in the North East and 784.1 in Yorkshire and The Humber. The rates quoted do not take account of the different rates of testing.

“Pubs are not the problem”

The hospitality sector has been anticipating further restrictions, as various scenarios for halting the increase in infection have been discussed by the Prime Minister and those around him over the past few days. Some of the ideas floated over the past couple of weeks have included the possibility of early closing for pubs and a two week ‘circuit break’ imposing a short lockdown around half term.

The idea that pubs should be closed again was firmly dismissed by Simon Emeny, CEO of Fuller’s over the weekend:

“That would be illogical” he said. “Why close down a sector who (a) are regulated. (b) have been successfully working with strict guidelines, (c) have been and continue to work with Government on track and trace. Pubs are not the problem but can be part of the solution”.

Cabinet split

We are told the Cabinet is split over what to do. It’s reported that a full shutdown of the hospitality sector was discussed in Downing Street on Friday 18 September, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak against. He and Home Secretary Priti Patel are understood to be urging caution about causing long-term damage to the economy. They argue the Prime Minister should weigh up the effect of recent measures such as the introduction of £10,000 fines on those who break quarantine and the limitation on socializing to groups of six people, before making decisions that would have a negative impact on the economy.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove are reported to be encouraging Boris Johnson to take decisive action to prevent a sharp rise in cases over the next few weeks.

Frustration at prospect of more restrictions

After Monday’s meeting with London’s council leaders, Sadiq Khan acknowledged the frustration many Londoners will feel at the prospect of further restrictions:

“I know that many Londoners, like me, will be deeply frustrated at the likelihood of imminent new restrictions. Londoners have shown incredible resolve by steadfastly following the rules and doing the right thing – at great cost. However, taking firm action now to prevent a deeper and longer lockdown in the future is without a doubt the best thing to both save lives, and protect jobs and our economic recovery” he said.

Cllr Curran echoed his words:

“If we act early we can hopefully save lives and reduce the likelihood of needing more stringent measures later. I urge the Prime Minister to listen to the collective voice of London and bring in the measures requested by the Mayor.

“We all need to play our part too and follow the key government guidance – washing hands regularly, wearing a face covering in enclosed spaces, keeping two metres apart where possible, and no social gatherings in groups of more than six.

“We should never forget how awful things were during the peak of the first wave. We had 238 people die in Hounslow and hundreds more made seriously ill. Coronavirus is still out there, it can spread without symptoms and it is still lethal.

“I’ve been extremely proud and inspired by how Hounslow residents have stepped up to support each other during the pandemic, with the vast majority acting responsibly. We all have a duty to keep following the rules to protect our most vulnerable residents and the NHS.”

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See also: Decisions on hold while we wait to hear

See also: Coronavirus cases continue to rise