London to face tighter Covid restrictions from Friday night

By Jessica Elgot Deputy political editor

London will be placed in high-risk, tier 2 coronavirus restrictions from Friday night as infection rates in the capital continue to increase, MPs and the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, have confirmed.

The decision came as Boris Johnson was expected to sign off on the harshest tier 3 coronavirus measures for millions more people in the north of England later on Thursday, with Downing Street putting last minute pressure on local leaders in Greater Manchester to accept the changes.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, will make the formal announcement on the new restrictions in a statement to the House of Commons later on Thursday.

The health minister Helen Whately informed London MPs in a conference call on Thursday morning that London would move to tier 2 restrictions, meaning people must not meet with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place. People should also aim to avoid public transport.

Schools, universities and places of worship can remain open and all businesses can continue to operate with Covid-secure measures, though the measure is likely to significantly affect more than 3,000 pubs and 7,000 restaurants across London.

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Speaking after a meeting with No 10, Khan said the virus was “spreading rapidly in every corner of our city.” London will soon reach an average of 100 cases for every 100,000 people – with a significant number of boroughs already over that threshold.

Khan said he had made clear to the government that London will need financial support for businesses, workers and public services.

The mayor said he wanted further action, including a national “circuit breaker” lockdown, which he said could “save thousands of lives, drive the virus down to manageable levels, and give the government more time to finally get a grip on its failing test-and-trace system.”

Khan said London had “a difficult winter ahead … But, just has we’ve always done throughout our city’s great history, I know we’ll get through this dark time by pulling together.”

MPs on the call with Whately said there were significant concerns about a rising numbers of Covid cases among the over-60s and a doubling of all cases every 7-10 days. The worst hit areas were west London boroughs, including Ealing, Richmond-upon-Thames and Harrow, as well as Redbridge and Hackney in east London.

Several Conservative MPs, including Wimbledon’s Stephen Hammond and Bromley and Chislehurst’s Bob Neill, raised concerns about the London-wide restrictions and called for them to be implemented on a borough-by-borough basis.

Quick guide Show Hide

Shops, schools and universities remain open in all categories.

In tier one, on top of the national restrictions and rules, for example on using face masks in retail environments and on public transport, residents are expected to:

  • follow the rule of six if meeting indoors or outdoors
  • pubs and restaurants shut at 10pm

In tier two areas:

  • no household mixing indoors
  • the rule of six applies outdoors
  • pubs and restaurants shut at 10pm
  • no household mixing at all, either indoors, outdoors or in hospitality venues
  • the rule of six applies in outdoor public spaces like parks
  • pubs and bars not serving food to be closed
  • guidance against travelling in and out of the area
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Labour MPs urged ministers to consider a financial package of support for the city’s businesses. Harrow West MP, Gareth Thomas, said: ‘Whilst I support the move to tier 2 there will be more business closures, higher job losses and greater hardship if further support isn’t announced urgently. Ministers could do more to help London businesses but so far seem determined not to.”

Hampstead and Kilburn MP, Tulip Siddiq, said constituents would be confused as to why the change was happening so soon after the tier system was unveiled on Monday.

“We all understand that this is a rapidly changing picture, but there is a lot of confusion about why the rules are changing just days after the tier system was announced and what the new rules will be,” she said. “Crystal-clear communications are needed from government to make this work. Instead, the way this is being handled is simply adding to the confusion.”

Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, will have final talks with No 10 this morning. Burnham has been resistant to moving his region into the “very high” risk category, which would mean the closure of pubs that do not serve food and a ban on household mixing, and has said the financial support package on offer is not enough.

MPs in Greater Manchester will have a telephone briefing mid-morning on Thursday with Whately, where one MP said they were expecting to be told their region will be put in tier 3, along with Merseyside. Lancashire MPs are also due a call with the health minister Jo Churchill.

The move was recommended by the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, at a meeting of the Joint Biosecurity Centre last night.

The former government poverty and homelessness adviser Dame Louise Casey has warned the UK could become a country where families “can’t put shoes on” children and said the current levels of financial support did not cut it.

The government will pay two-thirds of wages from 1 November for workers at firms forced to close under tier 3 restrictions, down from 80% on the previous furlough scheme, with the government contribution capped at £2,100 per month.

Casey said that was “not going to be good enough” to stop families falling into destitution. “It’s like you’re saying to people, ‘You can only afford two-thirds of your rent, you can only afford two-thirds of the food that you need to put on the table,” she told the BBC.

“There’s this sense from Downing Street and from Westminster that people will make do. Well, they weren’t coping before Covid.”