London will move into England’s highest level of COVID-19 restrictions, the government said on Monday, citing an exponential increase in infection levels as one of the world’s richest cities struggles to control the disease.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock also said that more than 1,000 cases of a new variant of the coronavirus had been identified, mainly in the south-east of England where the variant could be associated with a rapid increase in infection levels.
“Over the past week, we have seen very sharp, exponential increases in the virus across London, Kent, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire,” Hancock told the House of Commons in a statement referring to counties near London.
“We do not know to what extent this is due to the new variant, but whatever the reason, we must take swift and decisive action,” he said, announcing that the entire capital and some nearby areas would go into “High Warning Level.
Earlier this month, the government implemented a three-tier system with restrictions in England to try to keep a second wave of the virus under control after a month of national lockdown. More than 40% of citizens were placed in the highest risk category.
But London, whose 9 million people and world-leading financial center make it the engine of the British economy, is currently only at the second highest level of restrictions.
The tougher Tier 3 restrictions will take effect in the capital from 0001 GMT on Wednesday.
Takeaway service only for bars and restaurants
The main difference between the top two levels is that bars and restaurants, which can stay open under certain conditions in Tier 2, have to close their doors in Tier 3 and can only run takeaway services.
There are also additional restrictions on socializing, but workplaces and schools are encouraged to be open.
The application of Tier 3 in London “raises some questions” and “will hammer on” hospitality that governs what happens, by people moving back to their homes. We must focus on the real risk, not those who do the right thing to control the risk. pic.twitter.com/cjIIE7VgGb
– Iain Duncan Smith MP (@MPIainDS) December 14, 2020
“Moving into Tier 3 before Christmas will be deeply disappointing for Londoners and a terrible blow to the capital’s hospitality, leisure and culture sectors,” said John Dickie, Director of Strategy and Policy at London First Business Campaign.
London was one of the first parts of the country to be affected by coronavirus during the first peak between March and May, but until recently a second wave has been more concentrated in northern and central England.
Data published last week showed that the number of cases per 100,000 people in London was 191.8, placing the city ahead of regions with stricter rules, such as the West Midlands.
Based on these data, the government was concerned about the spread of the virus in London’s schools and announced a mass testing program. Two boroughs of London, Greenwich and Islington, have unilaterally decided to close their schools altogether.
Asked about the new variant, Hancock said there was currently no indication that it was likely to cause more serious illness or that it would not respond to a vaccine.