London’s Covid-19 infection rate is now higher than more than two dozen areas currently stuck under Tier Three restrictions, official data revealed today after Matt Hancock warned the capital is on the verge of being plunged into the toughest measures before Christmas.
Department of Health statistics show the city recorded 169.2 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 people during the seven-day spell ending December 2 — the day England’s national lockdown finished and Number 10 reverted back to its whack-a-mole style approach to thwarting local outbreaks.
For comparison, the city’s Covid infection rate stood at 151.6 in the last seven days before Downing St’s blanket intervention was imposed on November 2.
MailOnline’s analysis of Government figures show London is now recording more cases per day, for its size, than 27 of 61 authorities currently living under Tier Three curbs, including Nottingham, Leeds, Leicestershire, Bristol, Newcastle and Derby.
And 21 out of the capital’s 32 boroughs saw a rise in coronavirus infections in the last week of the shutdown, with the biggest surges in Haringey, Bromley and Kingston.
Asked whether the capital is in danger of being upgraded to Tier Three next week, the Health Secretary pointed to rising cases as he pleaded with people to keep obeying the rules. He urged the capital’s 9million residents to stick by the rules and ‘not push the boundaries’.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson also highlighted the increase in London in an interview hailing the first vaccines being administered.
City Hall is understood to be braced for bad news when the first review of the tiers in England is carried out next Wednesday (December 16), despite the mayor Sadiq Khan insisting he does not want it to happen. Tier Three rules would inflict yet more devastation on the hospitality industry, with bars and restaurants only allowed to operate takeaway — like during the national lockdown.
Michael Gove was the most senior minister to call for London to be subject to the most severe restrictions before the three-tier lockdowns were officially announced. But the Cabinet Office minister was shot down by the Prime Minister after economists projected the move could see 550,000 Londoners lose their jobs.
Despite the troublesome figures suggesting cases are trending upwards in London, separate data shows hospital admissions and and deaths have barely risen over the past two months.
NHS data shows just 145 Covid patients are being admitted to hospital every day, on average. In contrast , they topped 800 during the peak of the first wave in April. And Department of Health statistics show the capital is just recording 25 coronavirus deaths a day — a fraction of the scale of the city’s crisis in April.
MailOnline’s analysis of Government figures show London is now recording more cases per day, for its size, than 27 of 61 authorities currently living under Tier Three curbs, including Nottingham, Leeds, Leicestershire, Bristol, Newcastle and Derby
And the numbers in the capital are moving in the wrong direction, with cases per person up by half in the worst affected corners of the city and chaotic photos from the weekend showing shopping streets packed with people. Red shows areas where the infection rate has risen in a week, while green shows the boroughs that have seen a fall in cases
And data from the Covid Symptom Study app, which collects unofficial reports of test results and symptoms, estimates that other Tier Two areas including Berkshire, Wiltshire and Suffolk are also seeing cases on the up ahead of crunch decisions next week
Professor Tom Jefferson, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, said there were two possible explanations for rising infection rates that don’t spill over into hospital cases or deaths.
He told MailOnline: ‘One is testing, and the problems with testing. There could be a rise in PCR positive people who aren’t infectious.’
Just because someone receives a positive PCR result does not necessarily mean they are infectious. This is because the test can pick up tiny fragments of Covid-19 that linger in the body from older infection.
Most people who contract Covid only remain infectious for a week, but for a small percentage of people it lasts more than a fortnight.
Another explanation may be the ‘age structure’ of people testing positive has changed, according to Professor Jefferson.
He said: ‘Most younger people don’t have complications [which means they don’t end up in hospital] unless they have pre-disposed conditions, which could be the second explanation.’
Professor Paul Hunter told MailOnline it was still ‘too early to be certain’ that hospital rates won’t rise, due to the lag in time it takes for infected people to fall critically ill and need treatment.
He added: ‘The start of London’s increase in cases was quite patchy [in terms of geography], which suggests to me localised outbreaks were driving infection rates —possibly in schools, workplaces and care homes – these sorts of environments.’
City Hall officials are growing increasingly nervous about London being moved into Tier Three, which would see pubs, restaurants and bars forced to shut and offer only takeaway services.
It is currently in the second bracket of restrictions, which bans socialising indoors with other households.
Tory heavyweight Sir Iain Duncan Smith has warned the move would be an ‘unmitigated disaster’, and the capital’s mayor Sadiq Khan has called on Westminster not to impose the restriction that would be the final nail in the coffin for thousands of small businesses.
Mr Hancock today dangled the threat of tighter restrictions over the capital, amid rising cases.
‘My message to everybody in London is “let’s stick by the rules” and not push the boundaries of the rules, but rather try to limit the spread of this infection because the case numbers are going up in parts of London, in parts of Essex, in parts of Kent, and we know what happens when case numbers go up, sadly more people end up in hospital and more people end up dying,’ he told LBC radio.
‘So, we’ve got to stick at it and we have got to keep this virus suppressed whilst we get the roll-out (of the vaccine) going.
‘So, my message to everybody in London is “please respect the restrictions, respect what needs to be done, keep yourself and your family and your community and your city safe”.’
Asked whether London could go into tougher restrictions on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘This is an incredibly important moment on the march out of this pandemic, but we’ve still got a march to go this winter.
‘People need to keep respecting the rules and try to live in a way that if you have the virus infects as few people as possible, and we are seeing rising numbers of cases in parts of Essex, parts of Kent and parts of London in particular and we’ve got to keep this under control.
‘The whole strategy all along has been to suppress the virus, protecting the economy, education and the NHS until a vaccine can make us safe.
‘That strategy is clearly working because a vaccine is starting to be able to keep us safe, but the suppress the virus bit is still absolutely critical.’
On a visit to London’s Guy’s Hospital, which began to give out Pfizer/BioNTech’s jab today, Boris Johnson urged Britons to stick to the rules. He said: ‘We’re not there yet, we haven’t defeated this virus yet.
‘It’s very important for people to understand… that the virus is, alas, still rising in some parts of the country. It’s rising, for instance, in London.
‘We’ve got it (cases) down hugely as a result of the measures we took in November, which have just come off. People made a huge, huge effort.’
Mr Johnson described the start of the mass vaccine roll-out as being a ‘shot in the arm for an entire nation’ but warned: ‘We can’t afford to relax now.’
Professor Kevin Fenton, London Regional Director for Public Health England, said: ‘The latest data shows case rates are on the increase again in most London boroughs, including in the at-risk over 60s.
‘Covid-19 behaves like clockwork – the more contact we have with others, the higher the chance of us catching or spreading the virus. If we want to keep infections down, every one of us needs to remain vigilant and follow the rules as we go about shopping, eating out or meeting friends outdoors.
‘We’ll need to work together to prevent a big surge in cases in London ahead of the festive period so we must all do our bit and limit the spread over the coming days and weeks.
‘We can do this by sticking to the rules, remembering the basics of ‘Hands, Face, Space’, and getting tested and isolating at home if we have any symptoms.’
Public Health England data shows the virus has also spread to the over 60s – who are most at risk of hospitalisation from the virus – where it is at 112 per 100,000, the same rate as before lockdown.
The most cases are being recorded in young people aged between 16 and 29, at 193 per 100,000.
A health source has warned Public Health England is ‘starting to get worried’ about the capital today, reports the Daily Telegraph.
The insider added there was ‘concern across the system’ over London, and whether it should be moved up a tier.
The minister for London Paul Scully, who is also MP for a constituency in the borough of Sutton, told the Evening Standard it was ‘too early’ to say what is happening as the tiers would be reviewed in a few days time.
‘Clearly we want to at the very least to stay in Tier Two,’ he said.
‘The only way we are going to do that is if we all look after each other by adhering to “hands, face, space”.
‘That way we can save lives and protect our economy.’
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert from the University of East Anglia, said it was ‘very worrying’ that cases were still going up in the capital, and warned Tier Three should now be considered for the city.
‘There were more cases at the end of lockdown than at the start in London,’ he told The Telegraph.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to rule out moving the capital into Tier Three today, he said
‘It is very worrying when cases were still continuing to increase in these regons despite the national lockdown.
‘It is quite likely that case numbers will start to accelerate even more in the coming days, probably including in areas not yet showing an increase, because of more movement around London. If cases in London were rising even during a national lockdown then we do need to reconsider the tier allocation in these areas.
London’s outbreak is focused in the north-east of the city with Havering its Covid-19 hotspot, recording the highest rate at 319.4 per 100,000
Havering, in the north-east of the city, is the capital’s Covid-19 hotspot, after recording an infection rate of 319.4 per 100,000 in the last week of lockdown. This was a rise of 11.7 per cent on the week before.
It is followed by Barking, where the infection rate rose by 17 per cent to 298 per 100,000, and Redbridge, where infections were at 194.5 per 100,000 – the same level as the previous week.
Only four of its 32 boroughs have infection rates below 100 per 100,000, according to figures from the Department of Health.
The lowest number of infections are in Richmond, where they have fallen to 79.3 per 100,000. It was followed by Camden, at 87.8 per 100,000, and Westminster, at 92.2 per 100,000.
Professor Kevin Fenton, the capital’s director of public health, warned on Friday the city could face the toughest restrictions if the ‘promising reductions’ in Covid-19 cases are reversed.
‘The promising reductions we had begun to see with the recent national restrictions across the capital have shown signs of slowing in recent days – a stark reminder of just how delicate our situation is,’ he said.
‘If we want to avoid being placed in Tier Three, it is vital we keep transmission down.’
Tory heavyweight and London MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith laid into suggestions that London would be forced into Tier Three today, warning it would be an ‘unmitigated disaster’ for the capital.
‘London is the powerhouse of the UK economy, we must not be moved into Tier Three,’ he told MailOnline.
‘Rates are falling and such a decision cannot be taken by health officials alone, there must be balance in this decision making. Tier Three would be an unmitigated disaster.’
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said yesterday: ‘I want to be as transparent about this as I can.
‘London is in Tier Two – these restrictions are serious. If we don’t follow the rules and London’s Covid-19 cases continue to rise, we could be moved into Tier Three, which none of us want.
‘We cannot risk this. Follow the rules.’