London moves into Covid high alert as millions banned from meeting indoors

WHO tells Europe to be ‘uncompromising’ in controlling second wave

Commuters travel on a Jubilee line tube train during the morning rush hour, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in London Britain, October 15, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
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Millions of Londoners will be banned from meeting indoors after the UK capital was plunged into local lockdown.

The city will move to high alert Tier 2 status from midnight on Friday and into Saturday morning - meaning 9 million people will be banned from meeting indoors, including in their homes, or pubs and restaurants, and advised not to use public transport.

Announcing the clampdown, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons infection rates in the capital were doubling every 10 days and appealed to Londoners “to get the virus under control again”.

“Coronavirus is deadly and it’s now spreading exponentially in the UK,” he said. “We must act to prevent more hospitalisations, more deaths and more economic damage.″

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the virus was “spreading rapidly in every corner of our city”.

“Hospital cases are up, more patients are going into intensive care units and, sadly, the number of Londoners dying every day is increasing again," he said. "Nobody wants to see more restrictions but this is deemed as necessary in order to protect Londoners."

The UK on Wednesday recorded nearly 20,000 new cases with 137 deaths, down on Tuesday’s 143, which was the highest daily death toll since June.

Across the English Channel, France will impose a curfew on Paris and eight other major cities.

In a dramatic escalation of France’s virus measures, President Emmanuel Macron said the capital would shut down between 9pm and 6am for four weeks from Saturday.

The curfew comes just nine days after all cafes and bars were shuttered to stop hospital beds being overwhelmed by Covid patients.

“We have to act. We need to put a brake on the spread of the virus,” Mr Macron said. “We are going to have to deal with the virus until at least the summer of 2021.”

London moves into Covid-19 high alert

London moves into Covid-19 high alert

After Mr Macron’s announcement, police raided the homes of France’s former prime minister, the current and former health minister and other top officials as part of a judicial investigation into the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Nearly half of all ICU beds in Paris are now occupied by coronavirus patients.

French healthcare workers on Wednesday marched through the streets of Nice protesting against exhausting working conditions and demanding the government hire more personnel.

Europe misses chances to halt second wave

Meanwhile, record daily infections in Germany, the Czech Republic and Italy are adding to fears Europe is on the cusp of losing control of the second wave.

Germany recorded 6,638 new cases today, exceeding the previous record of nearly 6,300 set in late-March, although testing has been significantly expanded since then.

Chancellor Angela Merkel tightened mask-wearing rules, ordered bars to close early and restricted gatherings in hard-hit areas.

Italy, so far spared the worst of the second wave, on Wednesday recorded its biggest single-day jump in infections since the start of the pandemic, adding another 7,332 cases.

This week has also seen the Netherlands close bars and restaurants, and the Czech Republic and Northern Ireland shut schools.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) urged Europe to be “uncompromising” in controlling the virus.

WHO regional director for Europe Hans Kluge said: "Covid is now the fifth leading cause of deaths and the bar of a 1,000 deaths per day has now been reached."

He noted that Europe was experiencing up to five times fewer deaths and up to three times more cases than in April.

He said part of the increase could be traced to a higher level of testing among younger people, and the lower mortality could be explained by the virus spreading through younger, less vulnerable groups.

The WHO’s chief scientist earlier said young people may have to wait until 2022 to be vaccinated against coronavirus.

Soumya Swaminathan said health workers and high-risk groups would likely be prioritised over young people.

Oxford University researchers announced they had built a rapid Covid-19 test that can identify the virus in less than five minutes, paving the way for mass testing at airports and businesses.

Weekly hospital admission rate for new Covid-19 positive cases in England. Public Health England
Weekly hospital admission rate for new Covid-19 positive cases in England. Public Health England

They hoped to start product development of the testing device in early 2021 and have an approved device available six months afterwards.

Boris Johnson had hoped to start mass testing but a pilot scheme in the north of England was paused and then significantly scaled back yesterday.

The plan had been heralded as a ticket to returning to normal life.

The UK is now being told to prepare for “a difficult winter ahead” as more areas are plunged into local lockdown.

And there were fears Manchester and Lancashire could be placed under Tier 3 or very high alert.

Weekly laboratory confirmed Covid-19 case rates per 100,000 population by age group in England. Public Health England
Weekly laboratory confirmed Covid-19 case rates per 100,000 population by age group in England. Public Health England

Andy Burnham, the mayor for Greater Manchester, called the government's plans "flawed and unfair".
"They are asking us to gamble our residents' jobs, homes and businesses and a large chunk of our economy on a strategy that their own experts tell them might not work," he said.
"Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City Region and Lancashire are being set up as the canaries in the coalmine for an experimental regional lockdown strategy as an attempt to prevent the expense of what is truly needed."

Liverpool is currently the only area under the toughest rules - with pubs not serving food forced to close and no household mixing either indoors or outdoors.

Tier 2 restrictions prevent people meeting indoors, while Tier 1 or medium restrictions include existing measures such as the rule of six and 10pm hospitality curfew.

Mr Hancock warned: "Things will get worse before they get better.

"I know that these measures are not easy but I also know that they are vital. Responding to this unprecedented pandemic requires difficult choices, some of the most difficult choices any government has had to make in peacetime."

Mr Johnson is under increasing pressure to impose a two-week "circuit-breaker" lockdown.

He said another national lockdown would be a "disaster" but refused to rule it out.