In Depth

M25 quarantine: is a London coronavirus lockdown in the offing?

Sadiq Khan allegedly left out of the loop about potential measures to halt second spike in infections in the capital

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has launched a public attack on Boris Johnson after being excluded from government talks about a potential “local lockdown” in the capital.

Khan claims that plans to stop travel in and out of the city via the M25 motorway in a bid to prevent a fresh surge in coronavirus infections were drawn up without the knowledge of London City Hall.

The proposals to introduce restrictions like those imposed in Leicester at the end of June comes amid growing fears of a second nationwide spike in coronavirus cases. Rises in infections were recorded each day last week for the first time since April, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). 

What is the current state of play in London?

“More than half of London’s boroughs saw coronavirus cases increase” last week, with Covid cases up “slightly” in 18 boroughs, reports MyLondon.

According to Public Health England (PHE), Hammersmith and Fulham saw the biggest increase, with cases rising from 3.8 per 100,000 people to 8.6. Other boroughs that reported rises include Barking and Dagenham (5.2 to 9.9 per 100,000), Brent (4.5 to 9.1), Barnet (5.4 to 7.9), Camden (1.5 to 4.2) and Greenwich (2.8 to 6.6).

But on a positive note, 14 boroughs saw their infection rates fall during the same period.

What is the government proposing?

The Sunday Times reported this weekend that the prime minister “convened a war gaming exercise last Wednesday in No. 10” that could “pave the way for draconian travel restrictions in and out of London” if Covid “flares up” in the capital.

The proposals are said to include banning overnight stays, imposing stay-at-home orders and the closure of “close-contact services such as hairdressers”.

“The challenge in London is how quickly people move around on the trains and Tube,” a government source told the newspaper. “It would potentially spread much quicker than in other areas, so you’d have to be quicker on the regional hammer in London.”

Plans have also reportedly been mooted to advise Londoners to remain within the M25, the ring-shaped motorway encompassing the city, if a second outbreak occurs.

“In practice, this would be almost impossible to police and highly disruptive for the nine million people living in the city,” says The Guardian. “It would have to take the form of guidance rather than an edict and could lead to anger against any Londoners found elsewhere in the country.”

And the reaction?

Khan has accused Johnson of “riding roughshod” over local leaders, and described the lockdown plans as “totally unacceptable and an affront to London and Londoners”.

In a joint open letter to the PM, Khan and London Councils chair Peter John said they had read about the M25 idea in Sunday newspapers with “great surprise”. 

“Our surprise is that such far-reaching contingency plans have been discussed and tested without the involvement or awareness of London’s government,” the letter continued.

Khan also noted that it had been 12 weeks since he was last invited to attend a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee “on behalf of London and its nine million citizens”.

Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi yesterday attempted to downplay the reports, telling the BBC’s Today programme that claims about a London lockdown were mere “speculation” and “inaccurate”. But the minister “refused to deny the shock plan”, says the Daily Mirror.

“We will follow how the virus is behaving and how it is being transmitted between people and then act accordingly,” Zahawi said.

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