As Britain hurtles headlong towards a no-deal Brexit, so London appears to be heading for Tier 3, the tightest covid restrictions perhaps as soon as next week – all just in time for Christmas.
Government scientific advisers and the London Mayor have all issued warnings this week about rising rates of infections from coronavirus, barely a fortnight since Croydon and the capital came out of a second lockdown period.
In Croydon yesterday there were 173 new cases of coronavirus infections recorded, bringing this week’s tally to 770 – up 48 per cent on the previous week.
Between November 27 and December 3 (the last week for which there are complete figures), a total of 15,605 coronavirus infections were reported in the capital – a rate of 174 per 100,000 population, compared with 155 in the previous week.
With England’s three-tier system of curbs are set to be reviewed by next Wednesday, December 16, Mayor Sadiq Khan has urged Londoners not to undo the sacrifices made in recent weeks.
“We still have a long winter ahead. None of us want London to move into Tier 3,” he posted on Twitter.
Despite the worrying rise in infection rates, the government appears determined to go ahead with its five-day Christmas relaxation of covid-19 restrictions. A Downing Street spokesman today refused to confirm that the more lax rules were being allowed between December 23 and 27 just so that the feckless Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, might be able to meet all six of his children, accompanied by their various mothers with whom he has various levels of estrangement.
With covid cases continuing to rise throughout the outer boroughs of the city in particular, the Mayor’s comments follow warnings from Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, and Prof Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, who told MPs that it would be “disastrous” if people were complacent about the risks of the virus.
Speaking to a Commons health committee, Vallance appeared not to be a fan of the government’s Christmas relaxation of restrictions.
He said, “We’re clear that the increased contacts over Christmas are likely to lead to an increase in numbers… the flip side to that is it’s a period where the schools aren’t together, so there may be a decrease as a result of that.
“But overall we expect there to be an increase.”
This sentiment was echoed by Prof Whitty, who described the coming three months as a “period of risk”. He said he was particularly “nervous” about the possibility of a third wave of infections in the new year.
The scientists’ warnings come as Johnson’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, has ordered covid testing to be carried out in secondary schools in some of the worst-affected parts of London, Kent and Essex. Cases in the areas have risen rapidly, especially among 11 to 18-year-olds.
Croydon is not, for now at least, among the local authorities where schools will be encouraged to test teachers, pupils and their families. The government says it is conducting the testing so that schools might remain open.
The mobile testing units are to be made available at the seven worst-affected boroughs – Barking and Dagenham, Hackney, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest, plus the City of London.
One headteacher in the affected area told the BBC that the tests have “been a long time coming”, but admitted that he would be powerless to force any of his staff or pupils to undergo the tests.
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