MPs in London boroughs worst-affected from coronavirus have accused the government of “keeping MPs in the dark”, and called on ministers to introduce further lockdown measures as the rate of infections continues to rise across the capital.
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 regions 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.
Tower Hamlets, which is just over two miles from Parliament, has an infection rate of 45.8 per 100,000, after recording 1,472 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.
Rushanara Ali, Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow in Tower Hamlets, told City A.M. she was “extremely concerned” about the spike in coronavirus cases in the borough and across the rest of London.
“With infections rising and the testing and tracing system on its knees, we are in a very difficult position, given an impending second wave and no plan from the government,” she said.
Ali called on ministers to introduce “local restrictions where needed” to reduce the need for a full nationwide lockdown.
“Many health professionals are increasingly concerned about the rising infection rates in London, and there is a strong case for restrictions to households mixing for a period of time if we are to prevent further rises in infections and further deaths,” she said.
The Tower Hamlets MP called the lack of regular testing in care homes a “complete disgrace”, adding that she had “yet to see” an action plan on how to tackle high levels of coronavirus among BAME communities across the capital.
“This is a massive concern in our ethnically diverse borough and city. It is completely unacceptable,” she said. “The government has kept London MPs in the dark and has failed to discuss what their plans are for sorting out testing and preventing the increase in infection rates, putting people’s lives and livelihoods at risk.”
Lack of communication
Fellow Tower Hamlets MP Apsana Begum said the current restrictions imposed on London, including the “rule of six” and a 10pm curfew on hospitality venues, “do not go far enough”.
She added that the current guidance had not cut through to minority communities across the capital, particularly in areas in East London with the highest levels of infection.
“The data shows that the virus is spreading from household to household, but the messaging from the government just hasn’t been clear from the start… There just isn’t enough dialogue in terms of localised restrictions,” the Poplar and Limehouse MP said.
Begum called for targeted messaging for local regions with high minority ethnic populations, including audio and visual messages in different languages, warning that “the government is struggling to get the right message across”.
MPs for Barking and Dagenham, London’s second-worst affected borough, joined calls for more effective communication from the government.
Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking, said the “worrying” rise in infections across the capital was being exacerbated by “unclear and garbled public health guidance from the government”.
Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham and Rainham, told City A.M: “Ultimately the complete incoherence from government on what people can and can’t do is leading to public confusion and a worsening situation.”
The London MPs joined a host of senior figures calling for further restrictions to be implemented city-wide across the capital to prevent the spread of the virus by commuters.
Sam Tarry, MP for Ilford South in Redbridge — London’s worst-affected borough — warned that the that Redbridge’s infection rate is “actually a lot worse” than the official 68.1 per 100,000 figure, and that the same was likely true for the rest of London.
Tarry urged for a two-week “circuit breaker style lockdown” for the entire capital that the Prime Minister abandoned plans for last week over fears of a backlash.
“I think the idea that you could have just localised restrictions just wouldn’t work — how do you draw the boundaries?” he said.
Fellow Redbridge MP Wes Streeting slammed the government’s testing scheme as a “shambles”, telling City A.M. that a London lockdown was “inevitable” if the capital’s track and trace system is not improved.
It comes as 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.
Public health officials have warned that it would be impossible to segment London and have some areas under stricter restrictions than others, with movement across the capital significantly higher than in other areas of the country.
The Prime Minister is understood to be hesitant to introduce a London-wide lockdown over fears it would hamper the nation’s hopes for a V-shaped economic recovery and cause wide-scale job losses.
The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) last month predicted that a second London lockdown would land an estimated £2bn hit on the UK economy.
Ilford South MP Tarry told City A.M. that the government’s refusal to implement stricter restrictions on the capital so far was “obviously a matter of weighing up the impact on the economy, which would be hugely significant versus just the health impact”.
However, 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.
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.