The coronavirus lockdown must not be eased any further before an effective test-trace-isolate and support system has been introduced for anyone showing symptoms, Sadiq Khan has said.
Challenging the government to “act now” to enable same-day testing and fast track support for those most vulnerable to the disease, the Mayor argues that it is “vital that this is in place before there is any further lifting of the lockdown so we can avoid a disastrous second wave of the virus that could overwhelm our NHS and result in more tragic deaths.”
Khan wants the government to make sure London’s health and local government bodies have the resources and the flexibility they need to implement the system, one which takes into account the size, density and diversity of the capital’s population and is on a larger scale than has been seen in international cities elsewhere.
He said,”It was a mistake for the government to abandon this approach in early March and it must now make up lost ground so our city can start to re-open safely,” adding his view that its use in Germany, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Singapore has played an important role in “saving lives and restoring public confidence”.
Khan’s intervention follows Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement on Sunday of a “conditional plan” for loosening wide-ranging restrictions imposed since 23 March, including encouraging people to return to their workplaces if they are unable to do their jobs from home, but also urging them to avoid using public transport if possible.
The Mayor responded at the time with an assertion that “lockdown has not been lifted“, emphasising that “social distancing measures are still in place” and that the task of overcoming the virus is “far from over”. While largely supportive of the government’s approach to the virus, Khan has also asked for some tighter constraints, such as preventing all construction work from taking place.
His call today echoes comments in his briefing for London Assembly Members (AMs) provided yesterday that the government’s response on testing had been “far too slow” and that “a successful test-track-trace programme similar to those used internationally must be implemented as soon as possible before any significant easing of restrictions”. The briefing also says, “increasing lab capacity is no use if people cannot access the tests, particularly in London where only half of all householders have a car”.
Concerns have been expressed by unions and others that London commuters’ heavy reliance on public transport make it difficult to observe social distancing requirements when travelling to work. The London Underground drivers’ union Aslef has called on Transport for London to make the wearing of face-coverings compulsory for passengers on the Tube, rather than just advisory in line with national guidance.
TfL appears to have the power to make wearing a face-covering a “condition of travel” on its services, but could not do so for those run into the capital by non-TfL rail operators, meaning the rules within the capital for public transport-users could be inconsistent.
In his briefing to AMs, the Mayor said that “all frontline TfL staff will be offered basic face masks from today” and that hand sanitiser points” will be introduced “in the coming weeks”. TfL says that around 20 per cent of frontline staff are absent from work at the moment, a fall from roughly a third near the end of March.
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