Ministers are set to hold talks next week over plans to introduce sweeping lockdown measures in the capital including a ban on household mixing, as new Covid-19 infections in London continue to rise.
Further coronavirus restrictions are expected to be enforced city-wide to halt the spread of the virus by commuters across the capital, with ministers ready to enforce new measures as soon as next week.
The fresh rules on social interaction are expected to be rolled out if current measures including the “rule of six” and a 10pm curfew on hospitality venues fail to quash the upward curve in infections.
The Prime Minister is thought to prefer the idea of multiple local lockdowns to a full-scale national lockdown, as the government seeks to prevent unemployment soaring beyond the four million mark.
Environment secretary George Eustice told Sky News this week: “I’ve not seen any projections of four million but certainly we know that there are some 700,000 extra people that are already unemployed as a result of this, and yes you know the projections are, that there are going to be economic impacts.”
He added: “It’s for precisely that reason that we are trying to avoid full lockdown.”
On Friday the estimated Covid-19 reproduction number – or R number – in the UK rose to 1.3-1.6 from 1.2-1.5, the government said.
Covid in the capital
It comes as London continues to see a rapid rise of infections in line with parts of the country already under local lockdowns.
Just six of London’s 32 boroughs currently have infection rates below the threshold of 20 cases per 100,000 used by the government to introduce quarantine measures on other countries.
Two London boroughs now have infection rates higher than the England average, according to the latest official data.
Redbridge and Barking and Dagenham — both in East London — have surpassed the national average of 56.2 cases per 100,000, with infection rates of 68.1 and 57.8 respectively.
Wes Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North in Redbridge, told City A.M: “It is extremely concerning to see a surge in cases in London, and in Redbridge in particular. Given the problems with access to testing, it is likely that the official figures are lower than the actual number of infections.”
“Whilst no one wants to see the area locked down, I will support further restrictions if the government’s scientists deem them necessary to keep people safe.”
Streeting criticised the sharp spike of infections in the borough, saying the rise was “not inevitable”, but instead “a result of government failures”.
“The government’s guidance has been confusing and the testing regime has been a shambles. Sadly, unless the government gets a grip of testing very quickly, more lockdowns are inevitable,” he said.
Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham, slammed the government’s “complete incoherence” in communicating whether or not London faces further lockdown restrictions.
He told City A.M “one of the key struggles” local authorities like Barking and Dagenham face “is a lack of powers to effectively enforce safety measures such as face-masks”.
Cruddas said an increase in testing and the recently-introduced track and trace app have bolstered hopes that the current spike will settle, but added: “Ultimately the complete incoherence from government on what people can and can’t do is leading to public confusion and a worsening situation.”
Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow in Tower Hamlets — which is currently London’s third-worst affected borough — said she was “extremely concerned” about the recent spike in infections across the capital.
Ali said further lockdown restrictions were needed in London’s worst-affected boroughs, warning that the government were “putting people’s lives and livelihoods at risk” by keeping MPs in the dark about lockdown plans.
London mayor Sadiq Khan on Monday hinted that further lockdown restrictions cannot be ruled out as London heads towards a “tipping point”, after the capital was last week added to the UK’s coronavirus watchlist.
A spokesperson for Khan said the mayor had a “constructive telephone call” with the Prime Minister on Tuesday to discuss the sharp rise of infections across the city.
“They discussed the rapidly worsening situation in London, including increasing ICU admission rates, and the need to go further now to prevent a disastrous full lockdown in future including mandatory face coverings for hospitality workers and more widespread wearing of face coverings”, the mayor’s spokesperson said.
“It is clear that London has unique needs and challenges and additional measures need to be examined which are suitable for the capital,” they added. “Sadiq and the PM agreed to speak more regularly.”
Almost 200 people were admitted to hospital in London from Monday to Friday last week, up from 151 the previous week and more than triple the 65 new hospital admissions in the first week of September.
Last Friday alone saw 620 new cases confirmed in the capital, taking London’s weekly infection rate over 3,000 for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic.
A further 22 fatalities were recorded in London last week within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, taking the total up from 6,191 on the previous Tuesday to 6,213 as of yesterday afternoon.
Professor Kevin Fenton, London director for Public Health England, yesterday said: “We are seeing a rising tide of Covid-19 infections in London. We must act now and pull together to do our bit and help reverse this trend.”