Sadiq Khan declares 'major incident' in London as Covid spread is 'out of control' and hospital cases 'critical'

A MAJOR incident has today been declared in London with hospitals at breaking point as Covid cases continue to rocket.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan is also urging people to wear masks "routinely" outside their homes as one in 30 Londoners is now infected.

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He said the NHS is "on the cusp of being overwhelmed" with more than 7,000 Covid patients in London hospitals — almost 2,000 more than the first peak last April.

The numbers of people on ventilators has almost doubled since Christmas day – with 47 per cent more patients in intensive care, the Mayor said.

And he warned hospitals will run out of beds in "in the next couple of weeks" unless the spread is slowed down "drastically".

It came as:

  • Moderna vaccine became third Covid jab approved in the UK
  • The Covid R rate is estimated to be between 1 and 1.4
  • Daily new Covid cases hit 70,000 – up 27% on last week, according to ZOE Covid app data
  • 8 in 10 recent positive cases of Covid in London and East England could be new UK variant
  • Pfizer Covid vaccine found to have protection against mutant strains
  • All travellers to England and Scotland from international destinations will have to test negative for Covid before they can enter the country
  • Boris Johnson revealed nearly 1.5million Brits had received their first vaccine dose

Boris Johnson has been urged to introduce even stricter rules than in the spring, such as closing places of worship, to slow to help slow the spread of the coronavirus in the capital.

And Mr Khan said Londoners should be handed money in order to self-isolate if they can't work, because people were breaking quarantine rules in order to "put food on the table".

Other officials have urged Londoners to "come together once more", when abiding by the rules has "never been more important".

Mr Khan said: "The situation in London is now critical with the spread of the virus out of control.

“The number of cases in London has increased rapidly with more than a third more patients being treated in our hospitals now compared to the peak of the pandemic last April.

“We are declaring a major incident because the threat this virus poses to our city is at crisis point. If we do not take immediate action now, our NHS could be overwhelmed and more people will die."

A major incident means services can't operate as normal and are placed in an emergency situation. However it is not clear how exactly this would impact care for non-Covid patients.

People have been reminded to keep using the NHS as normal.

Speaking on Sky News after the announcement, Mr Khan said the major incident was also "a message to Londoners".

"You all need to understand this is serious. I've never been more concerned than I am now.

"You'll be aware that across the country on average 1 out of 50 people have this virus. In London on average it's 1 out of 30, in parts of London it's 1 out of 20."

Mr Khan urged Londoners to stay home and protect the NHS and save lives.

What is a major incident?

A major incident is "any occurrence that presents serious threat to the health of the community", according to NHS guidance.

A major incident is also defined as being “beyond the scope of business-as-usual operations", the statement from the London Mayor's office said.

It is declared when the "severity of the consequences" associated with it are "likely to constrain or complicate the ability of responders to resource and manage the incident".

It involves an event where there is likely to be serious harm, damage, disruption or risk to human life or welfare, essential services, the environment or national security”.

This means special arrangements to be implemented to deal with the event.

They have been declared previously for the Grenfell Tower blaze in 2017 and the terror attacks in Westminster and London Bridge and the 2016 Croydon tram crash.

Calling a major incident in London at this point in the pandemic is to:

  • recognise how serious the situation is in London and the impact it is having on not only the NHS, but all emergency responders – ambulance, fire, police etc.
  • give a public health message – reiterating that Londoners must stay at home unless there is a really good reason not to.
  • make sure all areas are working together to support each other and insert more pace into the response.
  • ask the Government for greater financial support for Londoners who need to self-isolate and for tighter restrictions.

Professor Kevin Fenton said Londoners' actions have "never been more important" than now because this is the "biggest threat our city has faced in this pandemic to date".

The city's regional director of Public Health England said: "The emergence of the new variant means we are setting record case rates at almost double the national average.

"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."

Mr Khan said the restrictions needed to be tighter than those implemented with the lockdown due to the severity of the situation.

He said: "There are a number of things we've got to do… I'm hoping that by me declaring a major incident it makes it easier.

"I've written to the Prime Minister to stop collective acts of worship in London which are still taking place – I deliberately missed Friday prayers today.

"Also it's really important we accelerate the roll out of the vaccine in those parts of London where the virus is spreading incredibly fast."

Mr Khan said there had been 477 deaths from Covid in London over the last three days alone.

Alarming figures show 9,306 Londoners had died in total within 28 days of a positive test during the pandemic.

More than 830 people are being admitted to London hospitals every day – the equivalent to a new St Thomas’ hospital full, NHS England chief Sir Simon Stevens warned yesterday.

By comparison, the record number of daily admissions was 883 on March 30.

Rupert Pearse, an intensive care doctor in London, said in some parts of the capital, one nurse was treating four patients, when the ratio is typically one to one.

He said expertise were being "diluted" and the gaps filled with "staff who aren't trained in intensive care" being taken from their usual jobs – "which means other areas of patient care is going to suffer".

Speaking on Sky News, Dr Pearse said: "It doesn’t look like it’s going to stop until the end of January if we’re lucky. Just maintaining that response for that length of time is proving exhausting for NHS staff."

The London Ambulance Service is currently taking up to 8,000 emergency calls a day, compared to 5,500 on a typical busy day.

And more than 100 firefighters have been drafted in to drive ambulances to help cope with the demand.

The pressures are causing longer wait times for people phoning ambulances – up to 30 hours, according to the Health Service Journal.

Georgia Gould, Chair of London Councils, said public services in the capital are "urging all Londoners to please stay at home".

“We know how tough this is for Londoners. Councils are here to support anyone struggling to access food or medicine", she said.

“Today, the thoughts of London leaders are with the thousands of Londoners in hospital battling Covid and the amazing carers fighting to save lives. We owe it to them to do all we can to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

“This is a dark and difficult time for our city but there is light at end of the tunnel with the vaccine rollout.

"We are asking Londoners to come together one last time to stop the spread – lives really do depend on it.”

A further 10,000 Londoners were reported to have Covid yesterday, which only includes those who have been tested.


The seven-day rate of 1,035.9 cases per 100,000 people is the highest of any region in the country, according the the Government's coronavirus dashboard.

People aged 20 to 24 years old are testing positive more often than any other age group.

An average of 1,400 people in that age range are being diagnosed each day.

And the number of cases in people aged over 60 in the capital has quadrupled since early December.

Other figures from the Office for National Statistics say one in 30 people in London is infected with the virus, based on swabs of random households in the week to January 2.

But there are very early indications the staggeringly high infection rates are now levelling off.

Cases started to decline on December 29 – a week before the nation's third national lockdown came into force and ten days after Tier 4 was introduced.

But because there is a lag of around two to three weeks between infection and severe illness, hospital admissions and deaths will continue on an upward trend.

Meanwhile, the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app, led by researchers at King's College London shows 16,813 in London are catching the virus each day – remaining stable from the 16,384 at the end of December.

It comes just days after harrowing footage filmed inside one of London's biggest hospitals revealed the true extent to which care workers are under.

Staff at University College Hospital in London said they are being forced to choose between patients.

And a growing number of young people are entering intensive care fighting for life.

People aged 19 to 30 were being hospitalised with the new “Kent strain” of the virus, which first emerged in September.

London and the South East have been ravaged by the new mutant strain of the virus.

The R-rate has now hit 1.4 across the UK with the variant up to 74 per cent more transmissible.

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