Ministers and health chiefs put the capital into Tier 2 in a borderline decision which means restaurants and many pubs and bars will be able to reopen on December 2.
Many areas across the country were put in higher tiers than before lockdown and Boris Johnson urged people to stand firm in the battle against coronavirus during the winter months by sticking to social distancing and self-isolation rules.
The Prime Minister told Cabinet, on a video call: “We have got to keep our foot on the throat of the beast.” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “As we move out of national lockdown and into a regional approach, London will be placed in Tier 2. I want to pay tribute to Londoners for the sacrifices they have made so far.
"We must not lose our resolve and risk losing the gains made so far. This disease remains a serious threat.” Health chiefs, however, believe the previous Tier 2 restrictions, introduced in mid-October, were already flattening a rise in cases and may have been starting to bring them down without a lockdown.
City economists say the four-week lockdown will have cost the London economy £6 billion in lost output while “non-essential” shops, restaurants and pubs were shut. The Standard revealed on Monday that London was heading for Tier 2 but the decision is understood to have been very close.
The proportion of Londoners infected with Covid-19 appears to be falling and could be as low as 0.78 per cent of the capital’s population, it was revealed today.
Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics showed London had the fourth lowest regional infection rate in the country of 0.9 per cent on November 18, and remained below the England-wide average.
But daily data also published by the ONS today shows the rate had dropped in London to 0.78 per cent by last Saturday, November 21. They were down in 22 boroughs in the week to November 20, with the second wave appearing to have peaked about five days earlier.
One borough, Camden, has already seen its seven-day coronavirus rate fall below 100 cases per 100,000, one of the thresholds previously used for being in Tier 1. Westminster and Southwark are also close to this level, meaning a swathe of central London so crucial for Britain’s economy could soon have Tier 1-level infection rates. Richmond, Lewisham and Wandsworth are also heading towards this 100/100,000 Covid-19 rate.
The current number of Covid patients in hospital in London, 1,489, is less than a third of the peak number in the first wave — 4,813 on April 8.
However, the decline in cases could be hit by more people socialising and shopping in the run-up to Christmas, students returning from university and winter weather arriving.
Professor Kevin Fenton, London regional director for Public Health England, said: “The next job we have in London as we exit these restrictions is clear — we must continue to navigate the road through the festive period and into the New Year carefully and safely, protecting the NHS, minimising harm and preventing deaths.”
Mayor Sadiq Khan and many Tory MPs in London voiced strong opposition to the capital being put into Tier 3, which they believed was unnecessary.
Mr Khan said: “Whilst I welcome today’s decision, I am extremely disappointed that the Government is sticking with specific measures that seem to cause more harm than good. I am pleased the Government has accepted our argument to get rid of the 10pm curfew but I believe extending it to 11pm is a mistake — it should be scrapped altogether.”
Mr Johnson has reportedly been using a treadmill and doing press-ups in his Downing Street flat to keep his fitness levels up during his self-isolation.