Matt Hancock: There is 'no good reason' for Tube services to be drastically cut

24 March 2020, 17:47

Londoners have complained that the Tube service is still busy
Commuters travel to work on packed Tube trains despite coronavirus. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said there is "no good reason" for London's Tube services to be cut amid the coronavirus pandemic.

There have been scenes of busier than normal Tube carriages as workers try to reach their jobs with a drastically reduced service because of the disease.

Transport for London (TfL) has cut services drastically in order to cope, but the government is at odds with the Mayor of London and TfL. No10 says that a full service should run in order for people to be able to maintain a reasonable distance from one another on board trains.

However Sadiq Khan insists "TfL simply cannot safely run a full service because of the levels of staff sickness and self-isolation."

At the government's daily press conference on Covid-19 today, Mr Hancock said: "When it comes to the tube, Transport for London should have the tube running in full sos that the people travelling on the Tube are spaced out and can be further apart, obeying the two metre rule wherever possible.

"There is no good reason in the information I have seen that the current levels of Tube provision should be as low as they are.

"We should have more Tube trains running."

His comments are in direct contrast to those of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who said on Tuesday that he "cannot" run a normal Underground service due to "growing numbers" of staff off sick or self-isolating.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan's office hit back at Matt Hancock's claim there was "no good reason" not to have more frequent services on the Underground.

A spokeswoman for the Mayor said: "This is simply not true.

"The Mayor has told ministers countless times over recent days that TfL simply cannot safely run a full service because of the levels of staff sickness and self-isolation.

"Nearly a third of staff are already absent - there aren't enough drivers and control staff to do it.

She continued: "The Government must act urgently to get more people staying at home rather than going to work unnecessarily - that means taking the difficult decisions they are refusing to take to ban non-essential construction work and provide proper financial support to freelancers, the self-employed and those on zero-hours contracts to stay at home."

On Tuesday, Mr Khan agreed to reduce services on the Tube lines, meaning more people are packed onto single carriages - a contradiction to the government's distancing guidelines on Covid-19.

He advised, instead, for key workers to travel outside of rush hour "if you have to go to work".

In a further tweet, he said he was looking to the government to create a "support package" for workers that could "alleviate the situation."

He said: "Many of those still travelling to work today are on zero hours contracts, work in the gig economy or are freelancers.

"A proper package of support for these workers would alleviate this situation and help public transport, and I've raised this with the government.

"The British Transport Police said it had noticed "lots of people" using the Underground while its officers were patrolling the Central Line.

It added: "Please use public transport only if it is absolutely essential."

Sadiq Khan has said he "cannot" run a full Tube service in London
Sadiq Khan has said he "cannot" run a full Tube service in London. Picture: PA

As LBC News reported earlier, Julia Harris, who was commuting to Imperial College NHS Trust, said the reduced services meant "you now have more people waiting and piling onto tubes and trains".

Travelling on Tuesday morning, she said she found the District Line to be busy even after changing her timings and route.

"Seats on the train all had at least one person so people needed to stand, and the District Line was busy as well," she said.

"I don't think things are improved as a large amount of people are commuting early in the morning.

"It is concerning because I have to come to work. The choice isn't there and my commute is quite long.

"I worry for my health more on my commute than actually being in the hospital."

Meanwhile, another nurse Paul Trevatt criticised the "selfishness of other people" during his commute on the Victoria Line, and tagged Transport for London, health secretary Matt Hancock and Mr Khan.

"Please measure footfall in tubes and exits and entrances, and if it hasn't changed, a lockdown isn't working," he wrote.

It comes after Boris Johnson announced the UK would be going into a lockdown to help curb the spread of Covid-19.

Calling it the "biggest threat this country has faced for decades", the prime minister introduced strict measures to keep people at home except for food shopping and for those listed as key workers.