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London 'Could Be Coronavirus Free' Within the Month

Analysis shows the capital is seeing just 24 new cases a day – but this data was collected before lockdown rules were eased this week.
15 May 2020, 8:57am
london under lockdown coronavirus

London could be coronavirus free by June, according to new analysis by Cambridge University and Public Health England.

We're now seeing just 24 new cases a day in the capital, with the number of new cases halving every three-and-a-half days. This puts the city's "R" value – the scale used to measure the reproduction rate of the virus – at 0.4, considerably lower than the 1.0 Boris Johnson said we'd need to meet to start easing lockdown rules. If the number of new cases continues to decrease at the same rate, according to this modelling, London could reach a point where we're seeing no new cases by early June.

However, speaking to Radio 4's Today programme this morning, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said London's true infection rate is likely "a little bit higher than [24 cases a day], but it is probably lower than the rest of the country". The study was also conducted before the government relaxed lockdown rules this week, so it is unclear how the rates might have changed since then.

As of this Wednesday, those who can't work from home should be "actively encouraged to go to work", said Boris Johnson, but should also "avoid public transport if at all possible". The problem: many of these workers can't just go out and buy a car, or cycle long distances to their workplace. Lowering the R value is ultimately dependent on people sticking to social distancing – a challenge for workers who have no option but to get to work via public transport.

The government has been criticised for its shambolic response to the virus, and this morning Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis maintained the new official line that many have seen as problematic. People shouldn't "use public transport unless you absolutely have to", he told Sky News, before also claiming that public transport "is safe" if we practise "proper social distancing".

Outside of London, the picture isn't looking quite as hopeful. According to the same analysis, the North East has 4,000 new infections every day and an R rate twice that of London. Analysis suggests the rate in the North East and Yorkshire is 0.8, 0.76 in the South West, 0.73 in the North West, 0.71 in the East of England and 0.68 in the Midlands.

On Thursday night, suggestions were made that the UK could re-open by region. Conservative MP Bim Afolami said, "If you look at other countries, they've often adopted regional approaches. If it makes sense from a health perspective, we need to consider it."

However, Tory MP Steve Brine said the UK should act as one in easing lockdown measures. "The country should move together," he said. "This shows the restrictions have had the desired effect – London is ahead of the rest of the country, so this is an encouraging sign."

Photographer Chris Bethell documented London after lockdown restrictions were eased on Wednesday. See his photographs below.

@christopherbethell