Covid: London to face tighter restrictions from Friday night

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London is to be formally moved up to the second tier of coronavirus restrictions later this week, a decision backed by the mayor, Sadiq Khan, but which prompted protests from a number of Conservative MPs in the capital.

London, Essex and Elmbridge in Surrey are among a series of districts moved into the “high risk” section of the three-level system, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, told the Commons.

London MPs were told about the decision in advance of Hancock’s statement in a conference call on Thursday morning. The changes mean people must not meet with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place. People should also aim to avoid public transport.

Schools, universities and places of worship can remain open and all businesses can continue to operate with Covid-secure measures, though the measure is likely to significantly affect more than 3,000 pubs and 7,000 restaurants across London.https://interactive.guim.co.uk/uploader/embed/2020/10/covid-increaseinlondon/giv-3902V0R8yM9ZoJIp/

Khan had called for tougher restrictions in London, but has also said the city will need financial support for businesses, workers and public services.Advertisement

Speaking after a meeting with No 10, the mayor said the virus was “spreading rapidly in every corner of our city.” London will soon reach an average of 100 cases for every 100,000 people – a significant number of boroughs are already over that threshold.

Khan said he wanted further action, including a national “circuit breaker” lockdown, which he said could “save thousands of lives, drive the virus down to manageable levels, and give the government more time to finally get a grip on its failing test-and-trace system”.https://interactive.guim.co.uk/uploader/embed/2020/10/covid-inlondonbyborough/giv-3902O9LvtqmjMtxA/

The response from many London MPs, particularly Conservatives, was notably more hostile. On the morning conference call with junior health minister Helen Whately, Tory MPs expressed fury about being “shut out” of discussions about new restrictions on the capital.

One MP said the government is “making Keir Starmer’s case for him” over the Labour leader’s call for a temporary national lockdown, and questioned why the capital was not having restrictions on a borough-by-borough basis if the government’s aim was targeted local action.https://interactive.guim.co.uk/uploader/embed/2020/10/eng_tier_lockdown-map/giv-39029wdgT2u8UBmu/Advertisement

Responding to Hancock in the Commons, several London Conservatives made similar points. Bob Neill, the Bromley and Chislehurst MP, said the imposition of tier 2 across all of London was “neither targeted, nor proportionate, nor appropriate”.

He was backed by Iain Duncan Smith, whose Chingford constituency takes in the far north-east of the capital, who said ministers needed to “look again at the London-wide nature of this tier 2 position”.Quick guide

What are the three tiers of England’s Covid lockdown system?

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Labour MPs urged ministers to consider a financial package of support for the city’s businesses. The Harrow West MP, Gareth Thomas, said: “Whilst I support the move to tier 2, there will be more business closures, higher job losses and greater hardship if further support isn’t announced urgently. Ministers could do more to help London businesses, but so far seem determined not to.”

Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn) said constituents would be confused as to why the change was happening so soon after the tier system was unveiled on Monday. “We all understand that this is a rapidly changing picture, but there is a lot of confusion about why the rules are changing just days after the tier system was announced and what the new rules will be,” she said. “Crystal-clear communications are needed from government to make this work. Instead, the way this is being handled is simply adding to the confusion.”https://interactive.guim.co.uk/uploader/embed/2020/10/eng_tier_lockdown-map/giv-3902Is2XNXFRhTcb/

The former government poverty and homelessness adviser Dame Louise Casey has warned that the UK could become a country where families “can’t put shoes on” children and said the current levels of financial support did not cut it.

The government will pay two-thirds of wages from 1 November for workers at firms forced to close under tier 3 restrictions, down from 80% on the previous furlough scheme, with the government contribution capped at £2,100 per month.

Casey said that was “not going to be good enough” to stop families falling into destitution. “It’s like you’re saying to people: ‘You can only afford two-thirds of your rent, you can only afford two-thirds of the food that you need to put on the table,” she told the BBC.

“There’s this sense from Downing Street and from Westminster that people will make do. Well, they weren’t coping before Covid.”

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