A reluctant acceptance of the inevitable coupled with unanimous calls for more government support to counter what one grouping called a “body blow” to businesses – that was the overwhelming response from political and business leaders in the capital to new Covid-19 restrictions imposed on the capital today.
London’s move into high alert Tier 2 restrictions, coming into force at midnight tomorrow, was confirmed at a morning meeting between ministers, Sadiq Khan, council leaders and advisers.
The new rules ban indoor social contact between different households, including family members, in any setting, whether private homes or pubs and restaurants. The “rule of six” remains in place outdoors and although travel is not yet restricted, Londoners are advised to work from home if they can and to reduce the number of journeys they make where possible. Full details here.
“Cases will soon tip over 100 per 100,000 people across the city,” warned Public Health England London director Professor Kevin Fenton. “Intervening now gives us a greater chance to avoid the exponential growth we have seen in other parts of the country and to begin flattening the curve in the capital. Mixing between households remains one of the key drivers of disease transmission and these new measures will have a direct impact.”
The restrictions are “necessary in order to protect Londoners”, Mayor Khan told the London Assembly this morning, adding that the “supposed choice” between health and the economy was “entirely false”. Getting the virus under control was “the only way we can both protect lives and our economy. There is simply no other option,” he said.
London Chamber of Commerce chief executive Richard Burge called for a rethink in Number 11 to protect the capital’s hospitality sector in particular. “The Chancellor must realise his funding packages are focused on recovery, but for the next few weeks we will not be recovering, we will be surviving – and his financial support must reflect that reality or businesses will fail.”
The government should also cancel the 10.00 pm curfew for pubs and restaurants and allow longer trading, Burge added, as “whatever evidence basis they are working from will now have changed due to the consequence of Tier 2 restrictions.”
His call for extra help for business was echoed by Khan and business lobby group London First, alongside calls for “transparency” over the impact of the measures and when they would be lifted, and, for Khan, a short “circuit-breaker” lockdown as well.
“For firms just starting to get back on their feet, these further restrictions will come as a severe blow,” said London First chief executive Jasmine Whitbread. “The government must not repeat the mistakes of the summer and must use this time to fix the track and trace system and put in further support for those businesses unable to trade, including extending business rate and VAT reliefs.”
While the new restrictions were “absolutely necessary” to keep London safe and help protect the economy, government support both for business and the boroughs was vital “to ensure that these new measures are a success”, said Camden Council leader Georgia Gould, the chair of the London Councils group representing the capital’s 33 local authorities.
The move to high level restrictions is a “body blow” for the city and toughest for the “already bruised” Central London economy, warned Centre for London deputy director Richard Brown. “We fully endorse the Mayor’s call for support targeted at London’s most exposed sectors for an urgent rescue package for Transport for London, and for the resources that local authorities and other public agencies need to protect London’s most vulnerable as far as possible,” he said. “We also hope that the Mayor will work with the government to ensure restrictions can be lifted as quickly as possible.”
“Many of our businesses are already on their knees, and I urge the government to consider further support before they disappear for good,” added Cities of London and Westminster MP Nickie Aiken.
There was some scepticism about the new rules however, particularly among Conservative MPs in the capital. “There’s no reason this couldn’t be done borough by borough,” said Bromley and Chislehurst MP Bob Neill, supported by Orpington MP and London Assembly member Gareth Bacon.
“I am disappointed that Bromley has been moved up to Tier 2 as our rate of infection is lower than the rest of Greater London,” said Bacon, acknowledging nevertheless that Bromley’s infection rate had risen over the last four weeks from 14 per 100,000 population to 71 per 100,000 last week.
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