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AFP
January 9, 2021

London declares ‘major incident’ with hospitals at risk of Covid deluge

World

AFP
January 9, 2021

LONDON: London mayor Sadiq Khan on Friday declared a major incident, warning hospitals in the British capital could soon be overwhelmed after a surge in coronavirus infections linked to a new strain.

"The stark reality is that we will run out of beds for patients in the next couple of weeks unless the spread of the virus slows down drastically," Khan said in a statement, urging greater support from the central UK government.

"We are declaring a major incident because the threat this virus poses to our city is at crisis point. If we do not take immediate action now, our NHS (National Health Service) could be overwhelmed and more people will die."

An estimated one in 30 Londoners now have the virus. The number of patients in the capital’s hospitals has grown by 27 percent over the last week and the number on ventilators has increased by 42 percent.

Khan hopes the decision will put pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to take further measures to combat the spread. The mayor has written to Johnson asking for greater financial support for Londoners who need to self-isolate, daily vaccination data, the closure of places of worship and for face masks to be worn routinely outside of the home.

"The situation in London is now critical with the spread of the virus out of control," said Khan. "The number of cases in London has increased rapidly with more than a third more patients being treated in our hospitals now compared to the peak of the pandemic last April," he added.

He also urged Londoners to play their part by sticking more closely to the rules. "I am today imploring them to please stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary for you to leave. Stay at home to protect yourself, your family, friends and other Londoners and to protect our NHS."

A major incident is defined as being "beyond the scope of business-as-usual operations, and is likely to involve serious harm, damage, disruption or risk to human life or welfare, essential services, the environment or national security".

Meanwhile, China sealed off two cities and imposed travel restrictions on 18 million people on Friday in an effort to eliminate fresh coronavirus clusters, as the United States reported a record number of deaths from the disease.

Authorities in the two cities south of Beijing cut transport links and instituted mass testing after 127 infections were recorded in the region over the past week. They joined Australia’s third-largest city in taking an ultra-cautious approach to the pandemic, with Brisbane announcing a lockdown over a single infection.

The responses to the relatively small outbreaks contrasted sharply with the chaos surrounding runaway infection figures in many other parts of the world. The United States reported a daily record on Thursday with nearly 4,000 deaths, while the toll in Brazil hit 200,000.

Many countries in east Asia however have managed to deal with outbreaks more effectively, and China on Friday moved to contain its largest cluster in six months with its usual tight restrictions. The northern cities of Shijiazhuang and Xingtai, home to more than five million people, were effectively sealed off.

Long-distance passenger vehicle transport in both cities was suspended as of Friday, and highways were closed. Flights to and from Shijiazhuang were cancelled, and trains suspended. Orders to remain in their local areas were placed on everyone in Shijiazhuang and Xingtai, as well as surrounding regions.

Britain on Friday reported a record 1,325 deaths over a 24 period from people testing positive for coronavirus, as a surge in cases piled pressure on overstretched health services, forcing London to declare a major incident. The death toll eclipsed the previous worst of 1,224 recorded on April 21 during the height of the first wave last year, and brings the total number of deaths to 79,833.