London recorded the biggest leap in the proportion of people testing positive for coronavirus in the week to 5 December, cranking up fears of tighter restrictions for the capital ahead of the Christmas period.
Figures released today 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 capital now has the highest Covid-19 infection rate in England, with more than 190 new cases per 100,000 people each week, according to official figures.
Ministers have drawn up last-minute plans as part of an effort to avoid placing London in Tier 3 next week.
The seven worst-hit boroughs across London are set to receive more than 100,000 extra Covid tests alongside plans to roll out mass testing in secondary schools.
Downing Street today announced 75,000 additional PCR tests would be made available for schools in the boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Hackney and the City, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.
Health secretary Matt Hancock also announced around 15 extra mobile testing units for Covid hotspots in north-east London.
The new rapid testing units are understood to be earmarked for busy retail spots to allow people to “test-while-you-shop” during the Christmas period, with results returned within 30 minutes.
It comes after London recorded 4,114 new infections yesterday, marking the highest ever daily jump in cases since the pandemic began.
Covid admissions to London hospitals rose to 1,178 last week, with a daily jump of 210 on Monday — the highest figure since early May.
However, the figures still represent around a fifth of the first wave peak. NHS director Professor Stephen Powis told the Downing Street press conference yesterday that the capital’s hospitals are “coping” with the virus.
Powis added that the Nightingale Hospital in London’s Excel Centre is ready to be deployed if cases surge, but is not thought to be needed at the moment.
Ministers are set to review the current tier allocations next Wednesday 16 December.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan earlier this week urged people in the capital to to “follow the rules” after Public Health England figures showed Covid-19 cases rising in 21 out of 32 of the capital’s boroughs.
However, MPs are understood to be reluctant to plunge London into the highest level of restrictions, with shopping in the capital during the key Christmas trading period vital to hopes of a swift economic recovery for the UK.
Under current Tier 2 restrictions in London, Liverpool and parts of the North, members of different households are not allowed to meet indoors, though they are allowed to abide by the rule of six in outdoor spaces.
Pubs and bars are only allowed to stay open if they serve a substantial meal alongside alcohol, with venues forced to shut at 11pm.
A move to Tier 3 would see a total ban on indoor and outdoor gatherings among different households, with all pubs, bars and restaurants forced to shutter.
The UK’s leading hospitality bodies earlier this week warned City A.M. that placing London in Tier 3 would deliver a “killer blow” for thousands of businesses in the capital.
“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 added that “the prospect of London moving into Tier 3 would deliver a killer blow that many hospitality businesses simply wouldn’t recover from”.