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Wed, 21 October 2020

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The Government Faces A Backlash From Local Leaders After Moving London To Tier 2

The Government Faces A Backlash From Local Leaders After Moving London To Tier 2
5 min read

London will be placed into Tier 2 coronavirus restrictions after a significant rise in cases; but the government faces backlash from some local MPs who feel a different policy should have been enacted, and local leaders who feel they have been cut out of the decision-making process.

MPs were told on a call this morning by Health Minister Helen Whately that the new rules come into force on Saturday. 

However, a major disagreement soon broke out as it emerged some London MPs are gearing up to vote against the Tier 2 restrictions when they go to the Commons.

Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, Bob Neill, said cases of coronavirus in his area were in the 60s and 70s per 100,000 people, and there is a stark difference between North London and the South East of the capital.

He said: "A number of us are wholly unconvinced by it. I assume at some point we are going to vote on the regional measures and as things stand I will be voting against it.

"There is no reason this couldn't be done borough by borough. In the North West some of it was done on a ward by ward basis, so there is precedent. There is a distinct geographical cluster where the rates remain very much lower."

The news also came just two days after local councils had, according to a local government source, been told by Number 10 advisors that moving to Tier 2 was "not a priority". 

One borough leader said local authorities in London were told at 9am on Thursday that the tougher restrictions would be introduced, but had been asking for it for over two weeks.

"Instead of being a public health emergency, Covid has become the biggest bunfight in the country's history," said a local government source.

Speaking in the House of Commons, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock, however, thanked leaders for the "collegiate nature" of the decision making. He confirmed that Essex and Elmbridge would also be moved to a high alert level. 

"Responding to this unprecedented pandemic involves difficult choices. We make these decisions with a heavy heart with the sole aim of steering our country through troubled waters….but I know there are brighter skies ahead," he said.

Hancock added: ”Infection rates are on a steep upward path with the number of cases doubling every 10 days.

"The seven-day average case rate stands today at 97 rising sharply. We know from the first peak, the infection can spread fast and put huge pressures on the NHS so we must act now to prevent the need for tougher measures later on."

For people living in the capital it will mean no mixing of households indoors, which includes pubs and restaurants. 

Two households can still meet in a private garden or outside, though the 'rule of six' and social distancing rules still apply. 

The 10pm pub and restaurant curfew remains. 

Dr Jennie Harries, deputy chief medical officer, and Kevin Fenton, regional director of Public Health England, were also on the call with Helen Whately.

The move comes after the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan warned the capital was at "a critical point" in the fight against Covid-19, with "rapid spread in every corner of our city".

"In my view the increase in the virus was not inevitable, had the government not failed to get a working test, trace and isolate system in place," he told Mayor's Question Time at City Hall on Thursday morning.

“I would urge Londoners to follow the new rules so that we can support our NHS, save lives and protect our economy.”

Mr Khan said the new measures were "deemed to be necessary in order to protect Londoners" and that he would continue to call for a short national "circuit breaker" lockdown to allow ministers to get a grip on test and trace.

"In London we experienced the worst of Covid back in spring," he added.

"Thousands of lives were lost and we simply cannot afford for the government to be slow to act again."

He said the "supposed choice" between safeguarding people's health and the economy was "an entirely false one".

"The later we take the necessary steps to slow the spread of the virus, the more severe these steps would have to be, and the longer they would have to last, in order to drive down infection rates.

"The truth is that the health crisis and economic crisis are inextricably linked. That’s why getting the virus under control is the only way we can both protect lives and our economy. There is simply no other option."

A total of 65,503 cases have been reported across London since the start of the pandemic according to latest Public Health England Figures.

Ealing has seen the greatest rise in cases, recording 100 new cases in the last 24 hours taking its total to 3,088, while Barnet has the highest total figure at 3,114, following 65 new cases yesterday.

Twelve London boroughs have now passed the threshold of 100 cases per 100,000 of the population, with Richmond upon Thames recording a rate of 140.4 and Hackney and City of London recording 133.1.

Leader of Islington Borough Council, Richard Watts, told PoliticsHome: "I think this is the right decision. If anything it comes too late. Cases aross London are rising dramatically. We can't make the same mistake we did in wave 1 of doing too little, too late and loosing control. There's a real risk that's happening now and I think a short, sharp circuit breaker lockdown would be a better way forward."

The virus is expected to hit 100 cases per 100,000 people on average "imminently", City Hall said last night, with some boroughs significantly above than that level already.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, who is MP for Kingston & Surbiton and was on the call, said: "The government have completely lost control of coronavirus across vast swathes of the country, and the situation in London is looking very difficult.

“We need to understand the science behind the tier system immediately, otherwise there will be fears that this fresh wave of restrictions will do very little to help stop the spread of the virus."

He said an immediate circuit-break would be more useful in tackling the spread of the virus.

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