Boris Johnson has been urged to spare London from England’s toughest level of coronavirus measures as the government prepares to decide which of three tiers of restrictions will apply to each part of the country when it emerges from lockdown next week.
The UK prime minister has already warned that more areas will be covered by the toughest set of curbs when they are announced on Thursday, with newspaper reports suggesting that about 80 per cent of England could be placed in the two most restrictive tiers.
But Mr Johnson is under pressure from London leaders not to put the capital into tier 3, which would result in the closure of all pubs and restaurants — apart from takeaway services — as well as museums and theatres.
The level of infection across London was 187 cases per 100,000, according to data from November 19, a slight fall from its peak of 199 five days earlier.
Sadiq Khan, the capital’s Labour mayor, said on Tuesday that there was consensus across the city on the issue. “London’s leaders have worked very closely together on a cross-party basis and are united on this: our city going into tier 2 next week would seem the right and sensible decision,” he said.
Shaun Bailey, the Tory candidate for next year’s mayoral elections, said many businesses would “close their doors for good” if the city was placed under the toughest restrictions. “We need to protect the health of London’s economy,” he said. “The harsh truth is that we can’t do that if London gets put into tier 3 after the current lockdown has ended.”
Conservative backbenchers have also voiced concern about the impact of restrictions on London’s hospitality sector. Felicity Buchan, MP for Kensington, told the Commons on Monday: “London is the engine of this country’s economy, and my central London constituency is suffering hard.”
Entry into each tier will be determined by five key criteria, including current and projected pressures on the local NHS and an analysis of case rates within all age groups, particularly the over sixties. The percentage of positive tests within the local population and the rate at which cases are increasing or decreasing will also be taken into account.
Under the previous system of restrictions, London was placed into the second tier. This time round, the capital’s Conservative MPs have called for the government to consider a borough by borough approach, taking into account the variation in infection rates. For example, in the week ending November 19, the borough of Camden reported 104 cases per 100,000, compared with 388 per 100,000 in Havering.
However, the prime minister has insisted that London will be placed into a single tier, telling MPs in the Commons that coronavirus was “no respecter of borough boundaries”.
Meanwhile, local leaders in the north of England have argued that the tier system could exacerbate the north-south divide and place further economic pressure on their region.
Jake Berry, who chairs the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs, which has more than 50 members, told the Financial Times there must be “a clear road map out of lockdown” — and an objective and transparent system of data to explain why areas fell into each tier.
He said that Covid-19 had “dug its claws deeply into the northern economy. Many parts of the north have been in some sort of lockdown since March with little time off for good behaviour. It has shown up the deep north/south divide”.
The government has said that while the areas in each tier will be reviewed every 14 days, local authorities will not be able to negotiate with the government.
Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, who fought a losing battle against entering tier 3 restrictions in October, said he feared the region would be back in the highest category, arguing that it would cause “significant damage” to the local economy.