Sadiq Khan has underlined his belief that London’s response to the spread of coronavirus must “rely on evidence, not instinct” as the number of cases confirmed in the capital has risen above 100.
Speaking at a Peoples’ Question Time event in Battersea last night, the Mayor said he recognised that the outbreak of the virus is causing “huge concern” across the capital but reiterated his view that “the best that Londoners can do at the moment is to follow the advice from the government’s experts and the public health authorities” including frequent hand-washing and self-isolating if people suspect they might have symptoms and seeking advice online or by telephone.
“As Mayor, I’ve been in regular contact with Public Health England for several weeks, and today had a meeting with the Chief Medical Officer,” Khan told a full house at Battersea Arts Centre. “I want to reassure everyone here this evening that City Hall stands ready to act on the latest scientific and medical advice, and we will take the necessary action to protect Londoners’ health as and when we are advised to do so by experts”. The government is expected to step up its response from a “contain” to a “delay” phase soon.
A total of 104 coronavirus cases in London had been confirmed as of 9:00 am yesterday by Public Health England, including 15 in Kensington & Chelsea, which was the borough with the largest number, followed by Southwark with nine, Barnet with eight, Camden with seven and Westminster with six. Only two local authority areas, Newham and Bexley, had no confirmed cases at that stage. Numbers are expected to continue rising.
Greater London has a resident population of just over nine million people and daytime population of nearly 11 million, boosted by non-Londoners who work in the city and visitors.
When Khan rose to speak in Battersea, a claim on Twitter by a national newspaper journalist yesterday that a “London lockdown” of some kind is already planned had already been dismissed by a senior City Hall source. There was no mention of anything of that kind in health secretary Matt Hancock’s statement about the government’s handling of the issues to the House of Commons in the evening. The Mayor had met chief medical officer Chris Witty in the afternoon. On London understands he received a “broadly reassuring message” about the progress of the virus in the capital.
Public Health England has said there are currently no particular concerns about public transport use. However, on Tuesday, Transport for London announced its introduction of an “enhanced cleaning regime” on the London Underground and bus networks, involving the use of “additional substances” in disinfectants that “kill virus and bacteria on contact” in order to “reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading”.
TfL also said the “final testing stages” of a new disinfectant are underway, with a view to bringing it into use in the next “couple of weeks”. This “longer-lasting cleaning agent” is intended to “provide anti-anti-viral protection for up to 30 days”. Special “hygiene back pack equipment” is to be provided for spraying the new disinfectant on internal vehicle surfaces.
Independent London Mayor candidate Rory Stewart has been critical of the responses of both Khan and the government to the virus, claiming that far more rapid and far-reaching interventions are required.
He has described as a “grave mistake” the Mayor’s saying that large events such as the London Marathon and St Patrick’s Day parade should go ahead as things stand, claiming that this is “putting the public in danger”. The former Conservative minister, who has adopted the slogan “less politics, more action”, also berated all political parties for permitting hundred of MPs to gather in “an airless crowded [House of Commons] chamber” for yesterday’s budget speech despite knowing that a minister had tested positive for the virus.
However, Stewart’s stance has been slammed by Liberal Democrat rival Siobhan Benita, who has described it as “sowing distrust in expert advice” and “highly irresponsible” and “highly arrogant and potential dangerous.” It “will cause distress and confusion,” she said.
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