Some of London’s most famous landmarks were eerily quiet today at the start of the first weekend of Britain’s third national lockdown, as calls for even tighter restrictions continue to grow.
Scientists warn the current measures are too ‘lax’ and can’t contain the new coronavirus variant, so are demanding stricter rules as ‘interactions are now riskier’ than in the first wave of the pandemic.
One expert revealed today that around 90 per cent of the population are sticking to regulations, and that appeared the case in the heart of the capital as haunting pictures this morning showed some of its biggest landmarks, including Leicester Square, China Town and Westminster Bridge laid deserted.
Despite that, there were crowds of people were out and about in Clapham, even though shops are closed, while traffic data from TomTom shows congestion levels have been greater today than they were last Saturday – a trend replicated across the week, despite Monday’s announcement of a new lockdown.
It emerged yesterday that London is facing the biggest threat of the pandemic so far as the NHS buckles under the strain of coronavirus cases, with a major incident declared in the capital by Mayor Sadiq Khan.
The city is one of the main hotspots of the latest wave of the virus which saw deaths reach a record high yesterday, with its spread now ‘out of control’ in the metropolitan area.
Mayor Sadiq Khan warned that more than one per cent of the city’s nine million residents tested positive for Covid last week, with one in 30 residents currently estimated to be infected.
In the worst-hit boroughs, it is feared the rate is as high as one in 20 and startling figures also show that hospital admissions rose by a quarter in the first week of January.
More than 7,000 NHS beds across the capital are currently occupied by Covid patients – 35 per cent higher than the busiest day of the pandemic in the spring.
Westminster Bridge was empty this morning after Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a major incident in London during the third Covid lockdown
Coventry Street was empty this morning after Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a major incident in London during the third Covid lockdown
Victoria embankment was quiet this morning after Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a major incident in London during the third Covid lockdown
China Town was empty this morning after Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a major incident in London during the third Covid lockdown
Piccadilly Circus was empty this morning after Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a major incident in London during the third Covid lockdown
Leicester Square was empty this morning after Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a major incident in London during the third Covid lockdown
People wait to buy coffee in Clapham People out and about Clapham, South London today after a major incident was declared in the capital yesterday
Growing calls for even tighter lockdown restrictions did not stop crowds of people descending on south London today
Traffic data from TomTom shows congestion levels have been greater today than they were last Saturday – a trend replicated across the week, despite Monday’s announcement of a new lockdown
Professor Kevin Fenton, London regional director of Public Health England, said the more coronavirus patients the NHS has to deal with, the more difficult it is to keep other services open.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today: ‘This is the challenge with the Covid pandemic and why we have been asking the population to really reduce mixing, to stay at home, to reduce the number of Covid infections because of the knock-on impact of this disease.
‘Not only do you put severe strain on the health system but you prevent other health conditions that may also need urgent or important treatment from being able to access those services at the time.
‘That’s why all messages to stay home at this time are so critical for us to get over this hump, to really keep this epidemic out and begin to get back to some normalcy as we approach the spring.’
Prof Fenton admitted there were ‘things we could do better’ to reduce the number of infections, including greater compliance with mask wearing and social distancing when using public transport and shopping for essential goods.
He added that people doubting the seriousness of the situation need to read and listen to the words of NHS staff and Covid-19 patients.
‘I would encourage people to read, look at the programmes that you’re running on TV where you’re interviewing doctors, where you’re interviewing patients who’ve had this very severe disease and are suffering from the long-term effects of it,’ he said.
‘This is the reality and that is the truth. So the advice would be listen, read, but stay at home. Protect yourself, protect your families.’
The comments come as doctors in the capital said a critical shortage of beds meant some hospitals were implementing emergency guidelines to prioritise treatment for patients with the best survival chances.
This means younger patients will be offered critical care over the elderly, who are less likely to survive.
And intensive care medics on Britain’s Covid frontline are ‘extremely worried’ that case totals will keep increasing until the NHS ‘simply won’t be able to cope with it’ as Britons keep flouting lockdown.
Data shows just 30 per cent of people exhibiting Covid symptoms are actually staying at home, claiming work, caring responsibilities or the need to buy supplies force them out the house.
Intensive care consultant Professor Rupert Pearse – who works at the Royal London Hospital in the hard-hit capital – said Britons are not following the rules like they were ‘in the first wave’ putting enormous pressure on the already-overwhelmed health service.