Sadiq Khan has warned that “thousands of new Covid cases” are still being reported daily across the capital and urged Londoners to continue staying at home as much as possible. “In some parts of London, one in 20 people have the virus,” he said via Twitter this morning, and also urged Londoners to not use public transport “unless it’s absolutely essential”.
The Mayor’s messages might be seen as a caution against complacency as the national vaccination programme starts to pick up speed in the capital after a slow start and amid recent signs that London’s overall infection rate is beginning to come under control.
Government figures say London’s “R-rate” at the end of last week had dropped to between 0.9 and 1.2, meaning the spread of the virus could be on the way to slowing, and analysis by Imperial College has suggested that Covid hospital admissions in the capital might have levelled off.
However, the number of Covid-related deaths will grow further beyond 10,000 and the capital’s health services continue to be stretched beyond capacity – the situation that prompted Khan to declare a “major incident” ten days ago.
Over 7,500 Covid patients are receiving hospital care in London – compared with just over 1,000 in November – and the London Ambulance Service is making use of 200 London Fire Brigade drivers to help keep up with demand, with 75 Metropolitan Police officers due to further augment it later this week.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has told Sky News that 24-hour vaccination sites will be piloted in London by the end of this month, but as the NHS in the capital battles to cope, the programme has so far been rolling out more slowly in London than almost every other region in England.
The BBC’s Politics London programme reported yesterday that 2,231 Londoners per 100,000 had received their first dose so far, which was little more than half the rate in the North East & Yorkshire region. Only 31% of London’s over-80s had received their initial jab by 10 January, compared to nearly 46% in the other region. Only the East of England had vaccinated a lower percentage of its over-80s.
Appearing on the show, Harrow East MP Bob Blackman (Conservative) said his understand is that the initial distribution of vaccines across the country was based on the take-up of the flu vaccine during the autumn. “London had a lower rate of take-up than other parts of the country,” he said, but added that he expected to soon see “a rapid catch up”.
A second London mass vaccination centre has now opened in Wembley, following the repurposing of the Excel centre’s temporary medical facilities for that use. Local MP Dawn Butler (Labour) told Politics London that the Olympic Office Centre will have the capacity to vaccinate 2,500 people a day, but she expressed concern about sufficient supplies of the vaccine make full use of it. She accused health secretary Matt Hancock of being “evasive” about the distribution of the vaccine.
The government believes it is on track to hit its national target of offering a first vaccination dose to all members of its top priority groups – elderly care home residents and their carers, people aged 70 and over, frontline health and social care workers, and “clinically extremely vulnerable individuals” – by 15 February. Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said yesterday that “good progress” is being made towards ensuring that every adult in the country is offered a vaccination by September.
Calls continue for some groups to be moved up the priority list for the jab, including police officers, school teachers and shop workers. Met commissioner Cressida Dick told Politics London she has been in conversation with the government about frontline police officers being offered the vaccine more quickly. “I find it hard to understand, if I’ve read it read, how 32 million people, including people like me and my whole management board, who aren’t frontline are going to get a vaccination before my frontline guys and girls,” she said. “It doesn’t feel right to me.”
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