Thursday 26 November 2020 1:24 pm

London Tier 2: City leaders breathe ‘sigh of relief’ but push for return to the office

City leaders have welcomed the announcement that London will be placed into Tier 2 when lockdown lifts, but warned that the capital will only fully recover when the government outlines a clear policy on returning to work. 

Health secretary Matt Hancock today said London will join regions such as Liverpool and Suffolk on “high” alert when England exits its month-long national lockdown on 2 December.

Areas placed under Tier 2 restrictions will enjoy a slight relaxation of the 10pm curfew on hospitality venues, but pubs will only be allowed to stay open if they serve a substantial meal.

People must continue to work from home where possible and avoid public transport.

Sigh of relief

City of London Corporation chair Catherine McGuinness welcomed the decision to place the capital in the middle of the three-tier system, but urged ministers to set out a clear strategy for revitalising businesses in the City.

“Many businesses across London and the Square Mile will be breathing a collective sigh of relief now that they will be able to trade in the run up to Christmas as a result of this decision,” she said.

“That said, as we look to the new year, firms in the City urgently need clarity on when office workers can return to Covid-secure workplaces.”

McGuinness said a clear return-to-work policy was “vital” for boosting the economy and helping pay for the “vast amount of support being provided at this time”.

‘Tis the season

Official forecasts now predict the pandemic will spell the biggest economic decline in 300 years, with the UK economy expected to shrink by 11.3 per cent this year. 

Business leaders have warned that a failure to protect businesses in the capital will result in further economic damage for the country in the long-run.

“We are pleased that London has avoided the strictest measures, in recognition of the sacrifices that Londoners have made. However, December is a critical trading season, and our retail, leisure, culture, and hospitality sectors face tremendous struggles without a significant change in the tone of public messaging,” said Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of business campaign group London First. 

“Both central and local governments must make a combined push to reassure Londoners that public transport is safe, so that people can return to our great city and enjoy all that it has to offer this Christmas,” she added.

London Covid cases

Speaking in the Commons this afternoon, Hancock said it was a “close call” on whether to place London in Tier 2 or Tier 3 — the highest level of restrictions — and warned that it could easily move to the top tier. 

‘There is a lot of work to do in London to keep it in Tier 2,” the health secretary told MPs.

Coronavirus cases are currently falling in two-thirds of London boroughs, according to the latest official figures.

The capital’s seven-day rate has now fallen from 199.6 cases per 100,000 on 15 November to 181.8 on 20 November.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said placing London in Tier 2 was the “right decision” for the moment, but cautioned against “complacency”.

“We know how quickly this virus can spread and we all need to keep playing our part and drive numbers down further across our city.”

The mayor slammed the government’s decision not to scrap the capital-wide curfew, by instead extending it from 10pm to 11pm. “It is a real blow to pubs, bars and restaurants which have endured such a difficult year and deserve better,” he said.

Test and trace

It comes after data released today by the Department for Health and Social Care showed that NHS Test and Trace is still only managing to tell around 60 per cent of people who have come into contact with coronavirus to self-isolate. 

The government has forcefully defended England’s contact tracing system and defied calls to fire its chief executive Baroness Dido Harding. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday reaffirmed Number 10’s commitment to NHS Test and Trace by announcing a further £7bn for the beleaguered system, bringing its total funding to more than £22bn.

But business leaders have warned that a clear path out of the pandemic will rely on huge improvements to the system.

Richard Burge, chief executive of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “Consumer confidence, and indeed the nation’s chances of managing the R rate until a vaccine is ready, hinges on Test and Trace. 

“We need the world class system that we were promised, where is it?  The Prime Minister’s strategy cannot simply be to wait for the vaccine ‘cavalry’ to arrive.”