Western Morning News (Saturday)

‘Major incident’ as virus cases soar in London

- HARRIET LINE

LONDON hospitals will run out of beds within weeks if the spread of coronaviru­s is not dramatical­ly reduced, the capital’s mayor has warned as he declared a “major incident” across the city.

Sadiq Khan said Covid-19 cases were “out of control” and implored Londoners to stay at home “unless it is absolutely necessary for you to leave” in order to save lives and protect the NHS.

He said that in some parts of the capital one in 20 people has coronaviru­s – compared to the England average of one in 50 – while there are 35% more people in hospital with Covid-19 than at the peak of the pandemic in April. He called for the closure of places of worship and for face masks to be worn routinely outside the home, including in crowded places and supermarke­t queues, in a bid to curb case numbers.

“We’re at risk of NHS hospitals running out of beds in the next couple of weeks if the virus continues to spread and people continue to be hospitalis­ed,” Mr Khan told Sky News. “You’ll be aware that across the country on average one of 50 people have this virus. In London, on average, it’s one out of 30. In parts of London it’s one out of 20.” He added that police officers would begin to drive ambulances “over the course of the next few days” to help handle the increase in 999 calls to London Ambulance Service, joining firefighte­rs who had been helping already.

City Hall said the ambulance service is now taking up to 8,000 emergency calls a day, compared with 5,500 on a typical busy day.

The declaratio­n of a major incident means that events are beyond the scope of business-as-usual operations and require special arrangemen­ts to be implemente­d by one or more emergency responder agency.

Major incidents were declared after the Grenfell fire, terror attacks at Westminste­r Bridge and London Bridge and the Croydon tram crash.

London’s regional director of Public Health England Professor Kevin Fenton said the situation now is the “biggest threat our city has faced in this pandemic to date”.

“The emergence of the new variant means we are setting record case rates at almost double the national average, with at least one in 30 people now thought to be carrying the virus.

“Our NHS services are under immense pressure and currently another 800 people are being admitted to our hospitals every day. We know this will sadly lead to large numbers of deaths, so strong and immediate action is needed.

“In order to ease the burden on our hospitals, we must first stop the spread. That means we have to stay at home. Cut your contacts, reduce your movements, do as little as possible.

“A lot has been asked of Londoners over the past 12 months but your decisions and actions right now have never been more important.”

Deputy Assistant Commission­er Matt Twist, who leads the Metropolit­an Police response to the Covid pandemic, said it was a “stark reminder of the critical point we are at” and rule-breakers cannot continue to “feign ignorance of the risk that this virus poses or listen to the false informatio­n and lies that some promote downplayin­g the dangers”.

“There can be no doubt that right now we find ourselves at a serious and dangerous crossroads for London; everyone must look at this news and understand that our health service is nearing breaking point.”

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