Londoners are to be banned from socialising with other households indoors from midnight on Friday evening in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus in the capital, health secretary Matt Hancock will announce on Thursday.
The news that London will enter the government’s tier 2 of tighter restrictions was relayed to Conservative MPs by Helen Whately, care minister, at a meeting on Thursday morning.
Mr Hancock is expected to announce the change at 11.30am along with the latest progress in talks about placing some northern cities into tier 3, the toughest of the new three-level system.
The latest data indicate that 13 London boroughs recorded more than 100 cases per 100,000 in the week ending October 8 — the trigger point for negotiations to move from tier 1 to tier 2.
Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor of London, told a session of the London Assembly on Thursday that London was at a “critical moment” in its fight against coronavirus and he expected ministers to announce later in the day that the capital would “shortly” be going into tier 2.
“It’s my expectation that the government will today announce that we will shortly be going into tier 2, or high, restrictions,” he told assembly members at City Hall. “Final conversations with ministers are ongoing around this as we meet. But I expect ministers to make the announcement to parliament this morning.”
“Hospital admissions are up,” Mr Khan added. “More patients are going to intensive care and, sadly, the number of Londoners dying is increasing again.”
Mr Khan told members he was pressing for greater financial support for London businesses to overcome the effect of the new restrictions. He said he was also asking for a short, national “circuit breaker” lockdown across England.
Living under tier 2 restrictions would mean Londoners would not be able to meet anyone outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting — whether private homes or pubs and restaurants.
Residents would also be encouraged to cut the number of journeys they make and avoid public transport as much as possible.
“I think there’s a virtue in the government following the advice from Sage and having a national circuit breaker for two or so weeks beginning next week, as it’s half-term,” Mr Khan told ITV on Tuesday, referring to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.
Recent polling by YouGov found that 68 per cent of those surveyed would support a circuit breaker during the October school half-term.
In an interview with LBC this week Mr Khan ruled out suggestions that different boroughs could be subject to varied restrictions, a policy favoured by some Tories, arguing that a collegiate approach was simpler and more practical.
“What I was keen to avoid was some boroughs having additional restrictions that other boroughs didn’t because that could lead to all sorts of complications and confusions that we wanted to avoid,” he said. “I am really pleased to say, working collegiately with councils and Public Health England, we want to go as one.”
Several Conservative MPs within the capital have expressed concern at the mayor’s handling of the crisis.
Nickie Aiken, Conservative MP for Cities of London and Westminster, said on Wednesday: “Let’s be in no doubt going into tier 2 will be devastating for businesses and people’s lives in the capital.
“Now we need an urgent and clear plan to show how London can turn things around and reopen as soon as it’s right to do so.”
Stephen Hammond, Conservative MP for Wimbledon, said on Wednesday it was not too late to adopt a borough-wide approach to avoid economic disruption to the entire city.
“You could have a system where you say to people that the following boroughs should not be visited, with a website regularly updated,” he said. “Is it appropriate that the mayor makes these decisions? Each borough should be making their own decision . . . so that we can avoid locking down 9m people.”
But Jas Athwal, Labour leader of Redbridge council — where infection rates are among the highest in London — said such an approach made no sense. “It’ll make no difference because everyone is going to be higher within days and we need a proper brake put on,” he said. “We need to be on red alert, on war footing, we are going into the worst period of the year.”
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