London is set to enter Tier 3 from midnight tomorrow, as the government scrambles to contain a sharp spike in coronavirus cases in the capital.
The capital will enter the highest level of restrictions at 0.01am on Wednesday morning, the health secretary has announced.
Parts of Essex and Hertfordshire including Basildon, Brentwood, Chelmsford, Epping Forest and Harlow will join London in Tier 3, with a review on the tier allocation due on 23 December.
It comes after the latest data from Public Health England showed there was an increase in coronavirus case rates in all 32 London boroughs in the seven days to 9 December.
The seven-day rate has also exceeded 200 cases per 100,000 people in 17 boroughs, meaning London now has the highest infection rate in the country.
London mayor Sadiq Khan called the latest figures “deeply concerning” and urged the PM to consider immediate action to support businesses forced to shutter under Tier 3.
“The worst thing for London’s businesses and our economy would be yet another full lockdown in the new year. That’s why I urge Londoners to follow the Tier 3 rules that the government is putting in place very closely so that we can drive down infection rates as much as possible,” he added.
Cities of London and Westminster MP Nice Aiken said she was “bitterly disappointed” at the decision, but that it was the “right decision” having review the data.
“However there is no doubt that Tier 3 restrictions will have devastating economic consequences for central London — especially on our hospitality sector,” she added.
“I’ve seen our pubs, bars and restaurants working incredibly hard under very difficult circumstances to keep us all safe, and this is going to hurt them.”
A move to Tier 3 sees a total ban on indoor and outdoor gatherings among different households, with all pubs, bars and restaurants forced to close.
Non-essential shops will be allowed to remain open so long as they are Covid-secure, while all museums, galleries, cinemas, theatres and ice skating rinks will be off the menu over the Christmas period.
London MPs are understood to have held two emergency meetings this morning over whether or not to catapult the city into the highest level of restrictions.
Ministers had originally planned to review current tier allocations for the whole country on Wednesday, but were “very alarmed” about an escalation of cases in London and Essex, government sources told City A.M.
MPs in the worst-affected areas of the capital were warned of an “exponential” rise in cases, after London reported 4,166 further infections yesterday — almost a quarter of England’s total cases.
Figures released on Friday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed the level of Covid in London jumped from around 1 per cent to 1.5 per cent of the capital’s population last week.
Meanwhile, rates of infection decreased across all other areas of the country, apart from the east of England which saw a very slight hike in new cases.
The UK’s leading business bodies warned City A.M. placing London in Tier 3 would deliver a “killer blow” for the capital, which is only just beginning to recover from months of closure.
“Hospitality has continued to take on a disproportionate burden to allow other parts of the economy to reopen during this crisis,” said Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality.
“These businesses have invested significant time, effort and money to create Covid-secure spaces, and they can play a role in keeping transmission rates down.”
Nicholls pointed fingers at the retail industry for the recent spike in infections, after the capital’s major shopping destinations saw a 93.5 per cent jump in footfall over the weekend.
“The increase in infections that are being reported in London boroughs are also not a result of the recent reopening of the hospitality sector, as we know due to the incubation period of the disease,” she said.
“Any harsher restrictions placed on the capital’s hospitality sector would have questionable effect on reducing transmission whilst plunging the sector into an even deeper crisis that would result in many more business failures and jobs lost.”
More than 25,000 UK hospitality venues have already buckled under the weight of the pandemic, with industry figures warning that hundreds of thousands of redundancies linger on the horizon as the tier system looks set to stay until the spring.
London mayor Sadiq Khan this morning warned that placing London in Tier 3 would be “catastrophic” for businesses already struggling in the run-up to Christmas, and “could mean many shops, bars, pubs and restaurants going bust.”
Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), urged the government to set out further support measures before announcing any fresh restrictions for the capital.
Kill told City A.M: “It’s hugely concerning that cases are rising, with a potential for further restrictions if London moves into Tier 3, but I can only reiterate that given the limitations faced by the restrictions against the hospitality sector we continue to be Covid-safe.”
“However there are concerns around the behaviour evidenced from the weekend across other sectors, and with this it’s hardly surprising that London is under scrutiny once again. Let’s just hope that government [is] as swift in its proportionate financial support as it is in placing restrictions on businesses within this key trading period,” the NTIA boss added.
The business body, which represents more than 1,200 bars, clubs, casinos and music venues across the country, last week warned that the new tier system will cause three-quarters of the country’s night-time venues to shut forever.
The night-time economy is the UK’s fifth-biggest industry, accounting for at least eight per cent of the UK’s employment and annual revenues of £66bn, according to data from the NTIA.
And London’s night time economy directly supports 723,000 jobs — one in eight in the capital, according to the Office for National Statistics.
London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) chief executive Richard Burge added that a “mass testing plan is needed to ensure Covid-19 case numbers come down with the Christmas lights”.
“There must be a clear government plan with London’s councils for the rollout of wide-scale testing in the capital,” Burgeons told City A.M.
He added that business support measures, including cash packages for hospitality venues, and an extension of the business rates holiday, must be “sufficient and immediate”.
“[That] will help the whole of the high street to plan their outgoings and mitigate the impact of loss of trade due to restrictions deterring those outside London from travelling in,” he said.