Sadiq Khan urges PM to shut all London schools as cases spiral

Sadiq Khan has called on the government to consider shutting all schools and colleges in London until January, following a “significant” spike in coronavirus cases among teens.

In a letter to Boris Johnson, the mayor of London said “urgent consideration must… be given to closing secondary schools, sixth form and FE colleges a few days early and keeping them closed for longer after Christmas”.

“Time is running out to get the virus under control in our city which is why I urge the government to heed my call and provide us with the extra support we desperately need,” Khan added.

It comes after schools across the Royal Borough of Greenwich in southeast London have been forced to close from today and move classes online amid an “exponential growth” of new infections.

Greenwich council defied orders from education secretary Gavin Williamson to keep children at school, citing swelling rates of infection among 10 to 19-year-olds.

In an open letter published last night, leader of the council Danny Thorpe warned that “the situation in Greenwich in relation to Covid-19 is now escalating extremely quickly”.

Numbers rising fast

The capital has seen a major spike in new cases recently, with daily infections tipping past the 4,000 mark over the last few days.  

The latest data by 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 also exceeded 200 cases per 100,000 people in 17 boroughs, meaning London now has the highest infection rate in the country.

Khan called the latest figures “deeply concerning” and urged the PM to consider immediate action. 

In a rare moment of cohesion, Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate for London mayor, backed Khan’s calls, saying schools should start one week later in the new year to make up for disrupted teaching in the run-up to Christmas.

“Since schools have contributed to the recent rise in infections, I’m calling on the government to let schools start one week later in January,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said it was “vital” that children remain in school until Friday, when most schools break up for Christmas.

They said: “Schools, colleges and early years settings across the country have worked tremendously hard to put protective measures in place that are helping reduce the risk of the virus being transmitted.” 

Ministers are set to review current tier allocations on Wednesday, amid fears that London will be moved to the highest level of restrictions.

However, MPs are understood to be reluctant to move the capital into Tier 3, warning that it would hammer the UK economy in the key Christmas trading period. 

Khan last week warned that moving London from Tier 2 to Tier 3 would be “catastrophic” for businesses in the capital, and put “hundreds of thousands of livelihoods at stake”.

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 last 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.

Read more: Placing London in Tier 3 would deliver ‘killer blow’ for hospitality venues

“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”.