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‘It’s life and death’: London borough tells people to stop visiting other houses as national rules 'not enough’

Stuart Henderson
·5-min read
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan takes the tube to Oxford Street, London, where he visited shops and restaurants to find out how they are coping after he sent a letter to the Prime Minister on the huge challenges currently being faced by West End businesses. (Getty)
Sadiq Khan has called for tighter rules in London in recent days, saying the capital is at a 'tipping point'. (Getty)

A London borough has urged residents to avoid mixing with other households “unless absolutely necessary”.

It comes amid fears coronavirus is spreading more rapidly in the capital than official figures show.

In an open letter, the mayor of Tower Hamlets in east London John Biggs wrote: “Despite a fall over the summer, we are seeing cases of COVID-19 rise and we need to accept that the situation is once again worsening. Tower Hamlets now has one of the highest levels of COVID-19 in London.

“As a second rise in infections hits us, we must take all steps necessary to limit the spread of the virus and protect those most at risk.”

He added: “With this in mind, now is the time we must take further action. I am clear that the current national rules are a minimum and my advice to you all is to do everything in your power to protect each other. Our individual actions have consequences for us all.

Labour's John Biggs is elected as the new mayor of Tower Hamlets as Independent candidate Rabina Khan (left) looks on after the count at the Excel Centre in London, to replace ousted mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman.
John Biggs has written over his concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in Tower Hamlets. (PA)

“The next few months will be very challenging. Without a vaccine or more effective treatment, our primary weapon against the virus is responsible behaviour. Measures to curb the spread of the virus will only work if people follow them.

“In addition to the national measures, we're asking residents to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 locally.

“Many cases of COVID-19 in Tower Hamlets are as a result of people visiting other households, so we are asking residents to avoid this unless absolutely necessary.

“This really is a matter of life and death and we need to act urgently.”

Read more: COVID intensive care admissions double in London

The move by Tower Hamlets comes as ministers have face renewed calls in recent days for the imposition of local lockdown restrictions.

 Members of public wearing face masks walk past a "Social Distancing" sign at Regents Street during coronavirus pandemic. It is mandatory to wear face masks while travelling. (Photo by Dinendra Haria / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Fears about the coronavirus' spread in London have been raised. (Photo by Dinendra Haria / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

Earlier this week, Jas Athwal – the leader of Redbridge Council, the London borough with the highest infection rate – said cuts to testing capacity in the city meant the true picture was being “distorted”.

He called for an immediate ban on different households mixing in the most overcrowded areas to prevent the situation getting worse.

Read more: Weekly Covid infection rate in capital passes 3,000

“Quite clearly I think in overcrowded parts of London we have got to be looking at bringing that in so that different households can’t mix,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“Mixing face-to-face should be stopped immediately because there are problems and we are seeing there the pandemic take hold. It is only going to get worse with the flu season coming into play as well.”

The warnings came after London mayor Sadiq Khan issued a call last weekend for immediate action to stem the spread of the virus in the city, saying the capital was at a “tipping point”.

Infections increasing in London

On Friday, the Office for National Statistics said it is too early to say whether coronavirus infection rates across England are levelling off.

In its report, the ONS said there is evidence of higher infection rates in the North West and North East, as well as Yorkshire and the Humber and London.

Watch: London added to COVID-19 watchlist

Also on Friday, scientists advising the Government said the R value – which measures the number of people an infected person will pass coronavirus on to – is between 1.3 and 1.6. For London, it was estimated to be between 1.2 and 1.6.

Anything above 1 would indicate the virus is growing.

‘We’re at greater risk’

In his letter, Biggs highlighted concerns at the disproportionate impact the virus is having on black, Asian and minority ethnic people.

A study commissioned by the London Mayor found this week that black people were 1.9 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white people, with the disparity partly due to long-standing socio-economic inequalities as well as the over-representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in careers such as health and social care – professions thought to be more susceptible to exposure to the virus.

The study also suggests a lack of London-focused, COVID-specific data was hindering efforts to assess the disease’s full impact on those with protected characteristics, and on the capital in general.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Downing Street, London, after leaving a Cabinet meeting at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
London has been put on the coronavirus watch list. (PA)

“While the virus is a threat to everyone, we know it has a higher impact on older and medically vulnerable residents, as well as on some Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. We also know that young people are catching and spreading the virus in growing numbers,” Biggs said.

“The diverse communities in Tower Hamlets are what make our borough great, but it also means Tower Hamlets is at greater risk. Every single one of us must play our part to protect our communities and stop the virus spreading.”

Khan said the report proved Covid-19 has had a disproportionate impact on “disabled Londoners, people in areas of high deprivation and those from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds”.

Watch: Anti-lockdown protests see 16 arrested

Coronavirus: what happened today
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