London 'major incident' - what does it mean, do I have to wear a mask outside?

8 January 2021, 17:52 | Updated: 8 January 2021, 20:08

A major incident has been declared in London
A major incident has been declared in London. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has declared a "major incident" as the spread of coronavirus threatens to overwhelm the capital's hospitals.

Covid-19 cases in London have now exceeded 1,000 per 100,000, according to the latest figures from Public Health England.

Mr Khan told LBC infection rates are so bad in some parts of the capital that one in 20 people have the virus, while London's average rate is one in 30.

READ MORE: London Mayor Sadiq Khan declares 'major incident' due to Covid spread

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The mayor also said the London Ambulance Service (LAS) is now receiving between 3,000 and 4,000 more calls every day than it would on a normal busy day.

It was revealed today that London firefighters have been drafted in to drive ambulances as infection rates soar across the capital.

There are 35 per cent more people in hospital with the virus than at the peak of the pandemic in April.

What is a major incident? 

The declaration of a major incident means special arrangements need to be implemented by one or more of the emergency services, NHS or local authority.

It is defined as being “beyond the scope of business-as-usual operations" and "likely to involve serious harm, damage, disruption or risk to human life or welfare, essential services, the environment or national security”. 

The "severity of the consequences" associated with it are "likely to constrain or complicate the ability of responders to resource and manage the incident".

Major incidents were declared following the Grenfell Tower fire, the terror attacks at Westminster Bridge and London Bridge and the Croydon tram crash.

What does it mean for London?

Mr Khan, in his role as chair of the London Resilience Forum, is likely to co-ordinate efforts to deal with the crisis, and will oversee greater co-ordination between boroughs and the involvement of key health and emergency services figures.

Mr Khan has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson asking for more financial support for Londoners who need to self-isolate and are unable to work.

He asked for daily vaccination data and for places of worship to be closed.

He is also asking for masks to be worn routinely outside the home, including in crowded places and supermarket queues.

The mayor also confirmed today that the London's Nightingale hospital will be opened in the "coming days", but he said it will not be used for Covid patients.

Will people have to wear masks outside?

There are a number of indoor places you must wear a face covering by law, including public transport and all shops.

However, speaking to LBC, Mr Khan reiterated his call for masks to worn outdoors.

He urged Londoners to stay indoors unless they have a good reason to leave home, but if they must do so then they should wear face masks.

How bad is the situation in London?

Mr Khan told LBC: “Across London, we face a situation where this virus is out of control and we're at real risk over the next few days and weeks of the NHS hospitals running out of beds if the virus continues to increase and people continue to need to be hospitalised."

He added: "Across the country, we've been told one out of 50 people have this virus. In London, the number on average is one in 30, but in some parts of London, one out of 20 now have this virus.

"On a normal busy day, the ambulance service receives 5,000 calls per day. It is now receiving between 8,000 and 9,000. So we're diverting firefighters and police officers to drive ambulances to help the ambulance service through this crisis.

"In our hospitals, we now have 35 per cent more patients than we had at the peak in spring, which is why I'm pleading with Londoners to please understand the best and safest way we can help our NHS, and get a grip of this virus, is to stay at home unless you have a good reason to leave your home."

London's regional director of Public Health England, Professor Kevin Fenton, said the situation now is the "biggest threat our city has faced in this pandemic to date".

"The emergence of the new variant means we are setting record case rates at almost double the national average,” he said.

"Our NHS services are under immense pressure and currently another 800 people are being admitted to our hospitals every day. We know this will sadly lead to large numbers of deaths, so strong and immediate action is needed.

"In order to ease the burden on our hospitals, we must first stop the spread. That means we have to stay at home. Cut your contacts, reduce your movements, do as little as possible.”

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, who leads the Metropolitan Police response to the Covid pandemic, said the announcement of a major incident was a "stark reminder of the critical point we are at".

He said rule-breakers cannot continue to "feign ignorance of the risk that this virus poses or listen to the false information and lies that some promote downplaying the dangers".

A spokesman for the Royal College of Nursing London branch said the situation in the capital was "dire" and nurses were "running on empty", adding: "It's vital for all Londoners to practise social distancing, wear face coverings, and stay at home. Don't let the sacrifice of nursing staff be in vain."

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