Harsher Tier 3 rules may be needed to combat Covid spread, MPs warned – as London heads for stricter shutdown

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HARSHER Tier 3 measures may be needed to stop the spread of coronavirus in England’s hotspots, MPs were warned today.

London is expected to be put into the top level of restrictions later this week – and public health bosses are pressing for even tighter curbs on socialising, hospitality and business in the run up to Christmas.

Regent Street has been pedestrianised in London to try and keep space for shoppers
Oxford Street was busy with shoppers over the weekend

MPs had another grim health briefing with public health officials and civil servants this morning where they were told of the dire state of London and the South East.

They were told that the cases are “off the charts” and “off the scale” and now “drastic action” was needed.

Covid cases are rocketing and the capitals hospitals are filling up, they were told.

The data was grim on other areas surrounding London including Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Essex and Kent – with expectations that the whole of the South East may need tougher measures.

But MPs were fuming that cases have been rising for days but no extra support was provided.

One London MP told HOAR: “They were ringing every single alarm bell they can – but no extra action is being taken at all.”

Public health officials present in the meeting warned that the current Tier 3 rules were not working well enough in some areas like Kent.

And they suggested tougher Tier 3 rules may be needed across the country – not just for London.

London Tory MPs are resisting against going into Tier 3 and have called for mass testing to be rolled out across the capital instead.

Some of them are seeking emergency meetings with Matt Hancock and Michael Gove to beg them not to plunge the capital into harsher restrictions.

A decision on any areas changing Tiers was expected to made on Wednesday evening, with an announcement Thursday, to come in on Saturday.

But with cases rocketing, it could come earlier – and the Health secretary will give a statement to the Commons today.

It comes as:

  • London Mayor Sadiq Khan today called for a fresh plan to try and stop the capital going into the next tier
  • Matt Hancock will make a statement today on the latest Covid developments in the Commons
  • Schools in Greenwich are set to close early
  • It’s unlikely that London will be split into different areas – as MPs have been told it’s easy to spread the virus from one to the other

The London Mayor called for testing of all workers who can’t stay home, for schools to shut now and reopen later, and for people to wear face coverings outside in public spaces too.

SCHOOL’S OUT?

And Mr Khan has demanded schools be closed yet again.

The move would force hundreds of thousands of pupils to study online and comes after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s vowed to keep kids in school.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, he said “urgent consideration must…be given to closing secondary schools, sixth form and FE colleges a few days early and keeping them closed for longer after Christmas”.

He wrote: “I am calling on the government to urgently provide additional support to get the spread under control, save lives and livelihoods and ensure our NHS is not overwhelmed this winter.”

“Increased testing is key to this, which is why I want to see regular asymptomatic testing extended to all those unable to work from home and to students and staff at London’s secondary schools, sixth-form college and FE (further education) colleges.

“With significant outbreaks among 10 to 19-year-olds, the Government must consider asking schools and colleges to close early and re-open later in January, with extra resource provided to support online learning.”

Sadiq Khan wants all schools in London to close today for Christmas holidays

Sadiq Khan wants schools in London to close

MPs were also told that schools would not be closed – and that shutting them would mean teenagers hang around in shopping centres and other areas spreading the virus instead.

But another MP said: “Secondary schools should close today and go into remote learning.”

Schools in Greenwich are being advised to close – against the advice of the Department for Education which wants to keep them open.

Schools are already able to close a day early – leaving Friday as an inset day if they want to.

Shaun Bailey, Tory Mayoral candidate has called for schools to get an extended break into January.

Should schools fail to comply after being directed to remain open, Gavin Williamson can apply for a High Court injunction forcing them to do so.

It is understood that directions under the act would only be used as a last resort, while a court order would be sought if they were not followed.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said tonight: “It is a national priority to keep education settings open full time and it is vital that children remain in school until the end of the term.

“Schools, colleges and early years settings across the country have worked tremendously hard to put protective measures in place that are helping reduce the risk of the virus being transmitted.

“Our regional school commissioner teams continue to support local authorities and school trusts to remain open and help resolve any operational issues.”

The Government will work with Greenwich council in a bid to keep schools open – and officials say that it’s their “strong expectation” that all schools enable full-time attendance.

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