The British Health Ministry has declared London on COVID-19 High Alert, the second highest level on the government’s three-tiered alert scale, as coronavirus infections in the capital approach 100 per 100,000 people and have passed that mark in many districts.
The high alert means the city of London and its nine million residents face tighter restrictions starting Friday, including a ban on indoor socializing among households and strong enforcement of the “rule of six,“ no gatherings of more than six people outdoors.
British Health Minister Matt Hancock announced the action Thursday before parliament, saying the new restrictions were the only way to protect lives and livelihoods. He said the government had to act because to delay would mean more deaths from COVID-19, and more economic pain later.
Hancock said the Health Ministry had been working in close cooperation with city officials, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Khan told the city assembly about the high alert status Thursday, saying the fight against the pandemic in London is at a “critical moment.”
He said hospital admissions are up, with more patients going to intensive care units and deaths from COVID-19 increasing once again. Khan believes the city will soon move to a Very High alert, the nation’s highest alert status.
Khan also expressed his support for the nationwide three-week “circuit breaker” lockdown proposed by the Britain’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and supported Tuesday by opposition Labor Leader Keir Starmer.
Khan said such a lockdown 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." Prime Minister Boris Johnson has rejected the strategy, for now, saying the economic cost would be too high and his alert system should be given a chance to work.
As of Thursday, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control reports Britain’s death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic stands at 43,155, the highest in Europe.