London could enter Tier 3 today as capital faces 'exponential’ covid growth

14 December 2020, 11:35 | Updated: 14 December 2020, 14:51

London Mayor Sadiq Khan explains why he is calling for schools to close early

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Sadiq Khan has said a decision on putting London into Tier 3 could come as early as today after MPs were told of an “exponential growth” in coronavirus cases

It comes with Health Secretary Matt Hancock set to make a statement to MPs in the House of Commons at 3.30pm.

The Mayor of London told LBC on Monday morning: "Covid-O, the government subcommittee is meeting now, there could be a statement later today... I understand they could be making an announcement soon... it's a government decision."

READ MORE: Labour leader and London Mayor at odds over closure of capital's schools

READ MORE: London's Islington Council tells schools to close from tomorrow ahead of Tier 3 decision

Tier 3 restrictions in the capital could have a catastrophic impact on the economy, with pubs and restaurants forced to close except for takeaway services over the busy Christmas period.

It comes after thousands of people took to the streets of central London to do their Christmas shopping over the weekend following warnings from the Mayor and police to respect coronavirus rules.

Mayor's reply to London moving into Tier 3

The allocation of tiers had been due to be reviewed on December 16 but rising cases in London mean this decision may have to be taken sooner.

The capital’s MPs were briefed on the latest statistics by health minister Helen Whatley and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries on Monday morning.

Ms Harries told MPs that although the growth in cases had not yet turned into hospital admissions, these were set to rise and action was needed, according to reports.

Mr Khan has suggested schools could be closed early for Christmas and reopened later in January in order to control the spread of the virus, with online lessons replacing missed classes.

Keir Starmer says he is 'very reluctant' to close schools

Schools in Greenwich and Islington have already been asked to move to online learning this week.

The Mayor has also said if the capital is moved from Tier 2 into Tier 3 the Government must provide extra support.

Mr Khan added on Sky News on Monday that he has been trying to convince the Government that Tier 3 is a "blunt instrument".

He said: "It's worth looking where the virus is spreading faster and it's worth looking at the areas where we have seen the biggest increase.

"It's worth them asking themself the question whether a move to Tier 3 is a blunt instrument that doesn't really address in a laser-like fashion where we are seeing the biggest problems."

He has written to Boris Johnson setting out his concerns, including a call for mass testing in schools.

Covid-19 map: Where are the hotspots ahead of the tiers review?

"I am calling on the Government to urgently provide additional support to get the spread under control, save lives and livelihoods and ensure our NHS is not overwhelmed this winter," he said.

"Increased testing is key to this, which is why I want to see regular asymptomatic testing extended to all those unable to work from home and to students and staff at London's secondary schools, sixth-form college and FE (further education) colleges."

Mr Khan said there had been "significant" coronavirus outbreaks among 10 to 19-year-olds in the capital, and that the Government must consider asking schools and colleges to close early ahead of Christmas and reopen later in January.

He said all schools and colleges across London should be given "priority testing" from today and Tuesday.

Mr Khan has also said face coverings should also be made mandatory in busy outdoor public spaces given the increase in Christmas shoppers.

In his letter to the Prime Minister, which was jointly signed by London Councils chair Georgia Gould, he said the seven-day case rate had risen in 32 local authority areas in the capital compared to the previous week.

There were also 17 boroughs where the seven-day rate exceeded 200 cases per 100,000 people.

According to the latest figures, the borough of Havering has the highest coronavirus rate in London, with 1,314 new cases recorded in the seven days to December 9 - the equivalent of 506.3 cases per 100,000 people.

This is up from a rate of 321.3 in the seven days to December 2.