London business groups have called on the government to ensure that any additional restrictions imposed on the capital to help lessen the spread on Covid-19 are supported by robust scientific evidence, following Boris Johnson’s announcement today of a new “three tier” system of Covid-19 categorisations
The capital is presently placed in the “medium” category, which means the tier with the least restrictions of the three (tier one). Elevation to the High category (tier 2) is widely expected given the recent continuing rise in London’s overall infection rates.
Noting that London “may be on borrowed time”, Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of business group London First, responded to Prime Minister’s statement to the House of Commons by asking for “an evidence-based approach” to any additional measures brought in along with “transparency on how they may be expected to reduce infection rates and as much certainty as possible as to when these measures will be lifted.”
Whitbread also urged the government to improve what she called “the poorly performing test and trace system” – something she described as “critical” – and to provide “further action to support affected businesses, including extending business rates relief and the VAT cut.”
Richard Burge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said it “makes sense in theory” to introduced a “simplified system to manage and understand Covid-19 restrictions” but stressed, in line with Whitbread, that “it must be accompanied by evidence that explains clearly why certain businesses and sectors are the target of increased restrictions.”
“Businesses have proven throughout this crisis that they will put the health of their staff and customers first,” Burge said. “But after their valiant attempts to trade through this challenging climate and keep people employed, as the tiers change, they deserve a specific explanation of why and how their sacrifice will lower transmission rates.”
Burge specified that “many London businesses question the basis of the 10.00 p.m. curfew,” noting “scenes of masses of people packing into public transport” due to their all leaving bars and restaurants at the same time.
Concerns that the curfew is being imposed too crudely have also been expressed by Nickie Aiken, MP for Cities of London & Westminster, and by her successor as leader of Westminster City Council, Rachael Robathan.
Shortly before Johnson spoke, Sadiq Khan warned on Twitter that London is “clearly in a crucial stage in our fight against coronavirus”, citing an earlier briefing by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam, to urge Londoners to “avoid closed spaces, avoid crowded places [and] avoid close contact”. City Hall is expecting High (or Tier 2) rules to be applied across Greater London very soon.
In a statement, the Mayor said it is “highly likely” that Londoners will face more restrictions “very soon” due to cases “rising so quickly across the city”. He stressed that Londoners are facing the same problems as many elsewhere in the UK what he called “the failure of the government to provide the resources that are needed” and that “as a country it is vital we properly support businesses, workers and local authorities to ensure the rules are followed and enforced, but also to avert widespread hardship.”
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