The government is to place the whole of London under Tier 3 Covid alert regulations from Wednesday, amid emerging evidence that a variant of the coronavirus might be responsible for its recent rapid spread in the south-east of England.
The decision was taken following a meeting of the cabinet’s Covid-O sub-committee and after London MPs were briefed in response to fat-rising infection rates in outer east London in particular as well as in neighbouring parts of Essex and Hertfordshire.
It means different households will no longer be permitted to mix indoors and the capital’s bars, restaurants and pubs must close except for takeaway services. Recent limited attendance at football matches will also end and indoor entertainment venues, such as cinemas and bowling alleys, most also close.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said in the Commons it is unlikely that the new variant will be more dangerous to health or unresponsive to the newly-available vaccines.
Sadiq Khan has described the change as “incredibly disappointing for our businesses who have suffered so much already this year.” But he added: “It’s clear that the virus is accelerating in the wrong direction once again across London and the lives of Londoners are at risk. It would be such a tragedy to lose even more people to this disease when the vaccine is now being rolled out across our city.We know from bitter experience that when cases start to rise quickly, it’s much better to act early, rather than too late. This is how we can avoid even tougher restrictions, for longer, further down the road.”
Days of speculation that the government would move London into Tier 3 escalated earlier when Khan revealed that the government’s Covid-O cabinet sub committee was meeting to discuss the situation. The He told Sky News that the move would be “catastrophic to our hospitality, to our culture and to retail” and called for financial support over and above what has already been provided “to make sure these businesses don’t go bust”, which would make economic recovery much harder.
Yesterday, Khan wrote to Boris Johnson asking the government to consider telling London’s schools to close because the highest infection rates have been among children of secondary school age. Greenwich Council leader Dan Thorpe announced yesterday afternoon that he was asking all schools in his borough to close at the end of today and to move to online teaching, with the exception of vulnerable children and those of key workers. Islington leader Richard Watts has since done the same, saying the near complete closure should continue until 11 January.
Answering a question from Chingford MP Iain Duncan Smith, Hancock said in the Commons that the very latest figures showed the virus has begun to move faster through older age groups, including people aged over 60.
Kensington MP Felicity Buchan noted that Essex and Hertfordshire “have been split into two” with some remaining in tier two, while the whole of Greater London has been moved into Tier 3. “In Central London our cases are still significantly below the national average,” she said. “And whether this House likes it or not, Central London is the powerhouse of our national economy.” She asked why London “has been treated differently from Essex and Hertfordshire.” Hancock replied that “of course I understand the effect on the economy” but that Central London case rates “are rising” and that higher infection rates in surrounding areas would be more likely to spread to it if it was left out of the restrictions.
Business group London First described moving into Tier 3 before Christmas as, “deeply disappointing for Londoners and a terrible blow to the capital’s hospitality, leisure and cultural sectors. Those businesses forced to close must be given the support they need to survive into the New Year.” Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond said figures he had been shown “justified” the decision, while expressing regret that it had to be made.
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