Sadiq Khan has warned of a new round of business failures in the capital and “tens of thousands” of job losses unless extra government financial support is provided as Covid restrictions are tightened.
Tube ridership, already down to just 60 per cent of pre-pandemic numbers, has slumped by a further 25 per cent since the Prime Minister’s new “work from home” advice last Sunday, the Mayor told the London Assembly’s final 2021 Mayor’s Question Time session today.
London’s hospitality and culture sectors, employing one in six people in the city, are suffering, the Mayor reported, with bars, restaurants, theatres and hotels seeing “massive cancellations” in what is usually the most lucrative time of year for those businesses.
Khan set out a menu of support required, including grants for affected businesses, 100 per cent business rate relief, an extension of reduced VAT rates into next year and a new furlough scheme for workers. “That’s essential,” he said, “or we are going to see businesses going bust and Londoners losing their jobs”.
London government and the NHS has also been “caught on the hop” by the Prime Minister’s “Omicron Emergency Boost” announcement extending the booster jab offer to all over-18s, Khan told Assembly Members. “Had we known in advance we could have made sure things were in place. We are playing catch-up,” he said.
Nevertheless the city now has 400 vaccination sites in place, more than ever before, targeting the 2.8 million Londoners now eligible for their third jab, including new “pop-up” mass vaccination centres at Chelsea football stadium and Wembley, Khan said.
But he admitted that the city has a “big challenge”, with 19,000 reported Covid cases in the previous 24 hours, hospitalisations already up by a third and 1.3 million Londoners still completely unvaccinated.
That rate is three times higher than elsewhere in the country, said Labour AM Onkar Sahota, a Southall GP. The 14 areas in the country with the lowest vaccination rates are all London boroughs, Sahota said, with four out of every 10 people in the borough of Westminster currently unvaccinated.
London is facing all the issues associated with being a “global city” said Khan, including a younger, more mobile and more diverse population less likely to be registered with a GP and sometimes less trusting of officials and those in power.
The Mayor also agreed with Sahota that it is “very difficult for people to ask others to follow the rules when they are breaking the rules themselves,” adding, “It’s so important for us to lead by example”.
A small number of Londoners have been listening to the “anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists,” Khan said, but a much larger number need the benefits of vaccination to be “properly explained by trusted message carriers” and many are now coming forward, he added. “That is what we are doing. We are going back again and again.”
Former Conservative mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey, who resigned as the Assembly police and crime committee’s chair this week after a photograph of him emerged at a party held at Conservative HQ last year in breach of Covid rules, failed to attend the MQT session.
Khan had earlier announced changes to Central London’s congestion charge, including removing evening charges after 6.00 pm and reducing weekend and Bank Holiday operating hours to 12 noon to 6:00 pm. The changes will apply from 21 February next year and charges will be suspended between Christmas Day and 3 January 2022. These breaks would “support the capital’s culture, hospitality and night-time businesses which have struggled so much,” the Mayor said.
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