Today London and parts of Kent, Essex and Hertfordshire have moved under tighter Tier 3 restrictions as we escalate our fight against COVID-19.
Cases in the capital have been increasing significantly for over two weeks and we are now seeing exponential growth that could quickly overwhelm our NHS services over the festive period and into the New Year if no action is taken.
The move to Tier 3 from today is one nobody wanted, but it is one we now cannot avoid. It is a move I know will be met with frustration and disappointment, but also a renewed determination across the city that we will not be beaten.
Since becoming one of the hardest hit regions in the country during the early part of the pandemic, Londoners have been fantastic in their response. We emerged from that first wave with a resolute determination that meant we kept rates down throughout the summer and into early Autumn.
This is now a pivotal moment for London and the wider south east region. We know that a rapid escalation in cases will lead to a greater number of hospitalisations and, inevitably, deaths. London currently has the highest case rates of any region in England, and is growing by the day, demonstrating why following the new Tier 3 restrictions is so important.
Cases are increasing in the at-risk over 60s and, whilst there is a mixed picture of case numbers across the different boroughs, we are now experiencing sustained growth in almost all of them, as well as in parts of neighbouring Essex and Kent. Latest figures from the ONS also showed almost 1 in 3 people in England show no symptoms of having the virus but are still able to pass it on – requiring everyone to play their part to prevent the situation worsening.
But whilst this outlook may appear stark, we have the tools at our disposal to start turning things around. Community testing and the vaccine are promising, but the most important measures that we have in place now are social distancing measures and practicing good hygiene. The message is simple – keep your distance from others.
We only need look to the recent past to see how the everyday actions of ordinary Londoners can make the biggest difference. The recent national restrictions and our efforts to abide by the rules meant case rates fell by almost a quarter in the final week of the four-week period.
We know that more contact with others leads to more cases, so by avoiding mixing and keeping our distance, we can have a real impact on the spread of the virus.
By stringently following the new rules, only mixing with other households outdoors and at a safe distance, by avoiding unnecessary travel, wearing our masks in crowded places and getting tested and isolating if we feel unwell, we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from falling ill, and protect the NHS during their busiest time of year.
To support these efforts, we are increasing testing availability across the city and are already piloting mass asymptomatic testing in 15 locations. Additionally, we are working closely with borough leaders and community organisations across London and the south east to ensure they have access to all the advice and information they need to take informed local decisions on how best to curb the spread.
With the deployment of the vaccine already underway in London and across the country, we can now see a light at the end of the tunnel. But we still have a job to do to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe over Christmas and into the New Year.
The actions of every one of us today will have a direct impact on the direction in which London moves. That is why we must all pull together as one city to push down on the curve, lower the rate of transmission and ensure we do not face a crisis in our hospitals over the coming weeks.