Experts are divided over whether London should go into the harshest tier of COVID restrictions in England following a rise in cases in the capital.
Figures from Public Health England have shown that during the last week of lockdown, 15,200 people tested positive for coronavirus in the UK capital, equivalent to 170 cases per 100,000. This is an increase from 156 cases per 100,000 the previous week and above the average in England of 149 cases per 100,000.
London has been in Tier 2 since England came out of lockdown on the 2nd of December. On December 16th, MPs will review the national tier system before a five-day relaxation of the rules over Christmas, allowing three households to form a bubble and mix during the festive season.
Cases, however, vary across the city. In Havering, a borough in the east of London, cases per 100,000 are higher than the city’s average, reaching 319 cases per 100,000. Barking and Dagenham also has higher than average cases, with 299 per 100,000. Boroughs like Lewisham, in the south of the city, however, only have around 117 cases per 100,000, complicating any decision to put the city under harsher restrictions.
But what are the experts saying?
Professor John Ashton, a former regional director of public health for the north-west of England told the Guardian, “[The government] needs to decide in the next 48 hours whether to move London into Tier 3 otherwise they really risk a terrible situation for London, with deaths going up during the Christmas period,” he said. “They might have to go to complete lockdown.”
Mike Gill, a former regional director of public health for the south-east of England, also told the Guardian that things may need to change before Christmas if the five-day rule relaxation can take place.
“I think it would be quite wrong to imagine that we can relax at Christmas without doing anything extra between now and then,” he said.
However, not all scientists believe that this rise in cases should necessarily lead to an increase in restrictions.
“There does appear to have been an increase in [the] London region in recent days, but that may not be that uniform,” Paul Hunter, professor of medicine and health protection at the University of East Anglia told VICE World News. “Looking at the age rates, it looks like most of the increase is in the 10 to 14 and 15 to 19 age groups (i.e secondary school children). Case numbers in this group have increased consistently during lockdown whilst most other age groups saw a strong decline.
“It is difficult to know whether this means that all or some authorities need to be moved up a tier,” he said. “The tier system doesn’t impact much on teenagers, so it’s a difficult one. The issue is whether this age group then seeds the infection into other age groups.”
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has warned people must stick to the rules to avoid London moving into the highest level of COVID restrictions.
“The number of cases in London are rising again and if we don’t all work together now we may face tougher restrictions across the capital,” he said. “Londoners have worked incredibly hard to help bring down the number of cases before, but we must not risk undoing all the sacrifices that have been made by lowering our guard and allowing cases to rise further ahead of Christmas.”
“No-one wants to see a devastating further surge in cases or the need for more restrictions,” he added, “so we must act now and do all we can to protect each other and our NHS.”