The Prime Minister must consider asking London’s secondary schools to shut for Christmas from tomorrow, Sadiq Khan has said.
Today he announced: “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 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.”
It’s understood the mayor is focused on secondary schools, not primaries, and wants them to consider shutting as early as tomorrow.
But Business Secretary Alok Sharma suggested the government would reject the demands, telling Sky News: “Our overall message is we want to keep schools open.”
It comes after London’s Greenwich Council unilaterally asked its schools to shut and switch to remote learning from this evening.
In a letter to parents yesterday, Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe said the east London borough was experiencing a period of “exponential growth” in Covid-19 cases, which required “immediate action”.
Mr Khan also asked for a compensation scheme to be put in place for businesses ahead of any further restrictions being imposed on the city.
He warned that moving London from Tier 2 into Tier 3 would have a “catastrophic” economic impact on businesses and put “hundreds of thousands of livelihoods at stake”.
The Government said it will review all tiers in England on December 16.
Mr Khan said: “The surge in coronavirus cases across our capital is deeply concerning.
“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.”
Mr Khan said there had been “significant” coronavirus outbreaks among 10 to 19-year-olds in the capital.
He said all schools and colleges across London should be given “priority testing” from today and Tuesday.
Face coverings should also be made mandatory in busy outdoor public spaces given the increase in Christmas shoppers over the coming weeks, he added.
Mr Khan said: “Time is running out to get the virus under control in our city which is why I urge the Government to heed my call and provide us with the extra support we desperately need.”
In his letter to the Prime Minister, which was jointly signed by London Councils chair Georgia Gould, Mr Khan said the seven-day case rate had risen in 32 local authority areas in the capital compared to the previous week.
There were also 17 boroughs where the seven-day rate exceeded 200 cases per 100,000 people.
According to the latest figures, the borough of Havering has the highest coronavirus rate in London, with 1,314 new cases recorded in the seven days to December 9 – the equivalent of 506.3 cases per 100,000 people.
This is up from a rate of 321.3 in the seven days to December 2.
The figures have been calculated by the PA news agency, based on Public Health England data published on December 13 on the Government’s coronavirus dashboard.
Speaking about support for businesses in the city, Mr Khan said: “Should the Government decide to move London to further restrictions, current support is insufficient to keep many businesses and the self-employed afloat.
“The Christmas and new year period provides a huge part of annual takings for the hospitality, culture and events industries, and the period this year was likely to be the difference between businesses surviving the pandemic and failing.”
Mr Khan requested that a compensation scheme is in place for all lost income during the Christmas period “based on last year’s returns”.
“For new businesses, compensation should be based on estimates of income using data for similar firms,” he said in the letter.