London Likely to Move Into Toughest Tier of COVID-19 Restrictions

LONDON (Reuters) -
People pass social distancing markers at Waterloo station, the busiest train station in the U.K., during the morning rush hour, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, in September. (Reuters/Toby Melville

London is likely to be placed in the toughest tier of COVID-19 restrictions following a sharp rise in coronavirus infection rates, the BBC reported on Monday, as one of the world’s richest cities struggles to contain the disease.

Earlier this month, the government implemented a three-tiered system of restrictions in England to try to keep a second wave of the virus under control following a month-long lockdown. More than 40% of citizens were placed in the highest risk category.

However, the capital, whose nine million people and world-leading financial center make it the engine of the British economy, is currently only in the second-highest tier of restrictions.

A countrywide review of the tier system is scheduled to take place on Dec. 16, although a decision could come sooner with Health Secretary Matt Hancock due to speak in Parliament in the afternoon and then later host a press conference.

The main difference between the top two tiers is that restaurants, which can stay open under certain conditions in tier two, must close their doors in tier three and can only operate takeaway services.

There are also additional restrictions on socializing, but workplaces and schools are told to remain open.

“Moving into tier three [this week] will be deeply disappointing for Londoners, and a terrible blow to the capital’s hospitality, leisure and cultural sectors,” said John Dickie, Director of Strategy and Policy at business campaign group London First.

London was one of the first parts of the country to be hit by the coronavirus during the initial March-to-May peak, but until recently a second wave has been more concentrated in northern and central England.

Data published last week showed case rates per 100,000 people in London stood at 191.8, putting the city ahead of regions that have stricter rules in place, such as the West Midlands.

Based on that data, the government raised concerns about the spread of the virus in London schools and announced a program of mass testing. Two regions of the capital have unilaterally decided to close their schools altogether.