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

8 January 2021, 13:05 | Updated: 8 January 2021, 16:04

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has declared a "major incident" in the capital due to the rapid spread of Covid-19 that is threatening to overwhelm hospitals.

Speaking to LBC's Shelagh Fogarty, the mayor listed the stark and troubling problems facing the city as its coronavirus outbreak spirals "out of control".

In some parts of the capital, Covid-19 infection rates are so high that one in 20 people have the virus, while London's average rate is one in 30, Mr Khan said.

The mayor revealed that 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.

He also confirmed the city's Nightingale hospital will be opened in the "coming days", but he said it will not be used for Covid patients.

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."

Read more: London's Nightingale to open in 'coming days', Sadiq Khan tells LBC

Read more: NHS staff at London hospital speak of exhaustion in rare ward footage

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

The mayor outlined to LBC the daunting challenges facing the capital: "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."

Read more: Moderna vaccine becomes third Covid jab approved for use in UK

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The mayor does not have the power to enforce stricter measures in the city - such as closing group congregations at places of worship or enforcing mask-wearing - so he called on ministers to implement such measures.

He also called on ministers to increase the vaccine rollout in the capital in order to tackle its worsening outbreak.

Mr Khan continued: "The worry is this, if there continues to be an increase in the virus spreading, and we continue to have patients that need to be hospitalised, the NHS will run out of beds, not just for Covid patients, but for non-Covid too.

"To give you an idea, over the course of the last three days, on average in excess of 800 new patients have been admitted for Covid."

The mayor warned that NHS staff - from doctors and nurses to porters and cleaners - are "stretched, strained and stressed" and that he worries many will be traumatised and could struggle to recover over the coming months.

Responding to the announcement, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Matt Twist said: "The announcement that London has declared a major incident in the battle against Coronavirus is a stark reminder of the critical point we are at.

"Our health service colleagues are fighting this virus every day on the frontline, but the case rate continues to increase and the number of people affected in London is alarming.

"Now more than ever is the moment for people to stick to the rules, and stay at home.

“There can be no doubt that right now we find ourselves at a serious and dangerous crossroads for London; everyone must look at this news and understand that our health service is nearing breaking point.

"I know Londoners will be shocked that officers are still dealing with a small selfish minority who think the rules don’t apply to them by holding house parties, large warehouse raves or other gatherings.

"These are creating breeding grounds for the much more transmissible variant.

“These 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.

"Every time the virus spreads it increases the risk of someone needlessly losing their life.

"Earlier this week the Met issued refreshed instructions to officers to issue fines more quickly to anyone committing obvious, wilful and serious breaches.

"That is happening and it will continue to happen."

More than 50,000 new Covid-19 cases are being confirmed across the country each day, leading some to fear that the worst is yet to come.

Earlier this week, London paramedics warned they were "fighting a war" with the virus, and the service is receiving thousands of extra calls every day as the pandemic rumbles on.

A majority of acute trusts in London - 14 out of 23 - are currently recording patient levels higher than at the peak of the first wave.

London was placed under Tier 4 restrictions just days before Christmas, but it is feared the stricter measures were brought in too late.

The entire country was plunged into another national lockdown last week in an effort to reduce coronavirus levels across England driven by the new strain.

In north Wales, around 90 per cent of Covid cases will be the UK variant by next week, with south Wales "not far behind", First Minister Mark Drakeford told LBC.

Meanwhile, NHS staff in London hospitals have warned they are working "to the limit" of their ability in rare footage from a coronavirus ward.

Shattered healthcare workers at St George's Hospital in Tooting, south-west London, said they are battling low morale, exhausting shift patterns, and the prospect that the worst is still to come.

With the number of Covid cases rising across the capital and the UK, the hospital has vastly expanded intensive care capacity and moved staff without specialist training to high dependency roles to cover the workload.

London has been at the epicentre of the latest wave of infections, and St George's has now seen its number of Covid patients at least matching the first peak.

In rare behind-the-scenes access to a frontline ward, the Press Association was told that staff are "resilient" to the challenge ahead, but workers conceded there was little room for manoeuvre.

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