Sadiq Khan warns Londoners' lives at risk amid Covid testing shortage

Sadiq Khan warns Londoners’ ‘lives are at risk’ if the capital continues to suffer a coronavirus testing shortage amid fears the city could be put under a local lockdown

  • Number of swabs carried out in the capital are below the national average despite London’s huge population
  • Capacity has been stripped out of the capital and reallocated to coronavirus hotspots in the North of England
  • Mr Khan warned the capital was now hurtling towards catastrophe as cases go up and testing goes down

Sadiq Khan has warned Londoners’ will die if the capital continues to be hit with coronavirus testing shortages

Sadiq Khan has warned Londoners’ will die if the capital continues to be hit with coronavirus testing shortages amid fears a lack of swabs could be masking the true scale of the city’s outbreak.

The London Mayor’s sobering warning came as the number of swabs carried out in the capital dipped below the national average, despite being the most densely populated city in the country.  

Testing in London was slashed from 90,000 per week in mid-August to 65,000 last month, after capacity was stripped out of the capital and reallocated to hotspots in the North of England. Testing is thought to have risen slightly in the last week, but Mr Khan argues it is still not enough to cope with the rising cases in the city. 

Londoners suspected of having the disease have for weeks been unable to access swabs, with reports of some being told to travel hundreds of miles or even cross borders into the devolved nations to get checked. 

The Government is struggling to cope with 200,000 swabs being processed each day and has had to start rationing who an get a test to deal with the growing demand as the virus continues to re-surge.   

The volume of people needing tests is expected to surge significantly moving into winter as the flu and colds start to plague the population and cause Covid-19-like symptoms, such as a fever and continuous cough . Testing is the only tool health officials have to tell whether someone actually has the viral disease.   

Mr Khan warned the capital could now be hurtling towards catastrophe as cases of coronavirus continue to spike but testing continues to plummet, potentially allowing infections to slip under the radar. He said any further decrease in testing ‘risks lives with winter approaching’. 

It comes amid fears London could be hit with a local lockdown, with Mr Khan warning tighter measures ‘couldn’t be ruled out’ if the rising wave was not curbed. Public Health England has put every borough of the city on its watchlist as an area of ‘concern’, meaning it will be monitored closely in the coming days and weeks.

London so far seems to have been spared the worst of Britain’s second wave of Covid-19, with northern cities like Manchester and Liverpool bearing the brunt of the second wave of the pandemic. London’s infection rate stands at 33.6 per 100,000, on average — a figure which has risen 28 per cent in a week but pales in comparison to Manchester’s 530 or Liverpool’s 300.

But statistics signal the capital city — home to around 9million people — is trending in the wrong direction, with infections doubling in a fortnight and cases soaring in all but one borough. However, hospital admission data is looking less bleak. There are just 34 admissions per day on average – down from an average 39 on September 25 and just 4.5 per cent of the level seen at the peak of the crisis in April.

Coronavirus cases rose in all boroughs of London except Camden in the last week of September, according to Public Health England data, but none have a rate higher than the England average (56.9 positive tests per 100,000 people)

Public Health England data shows how the weekly infection rate — the amount of Covid-19 cases diagnosed per 100,000 people in a week — is rising quickest in Richmond upon Thames, rising by 153.6 per cent in a week. It has dropped in Camden by around 70 per cent

Mr Khan told The Evening Standard: ‘Testing capacity was taken away from London last month and is currently below the England average of 150 people tested per 100,000 per day.

‘Given London’s size, population and complexity there is a strong argument for testing to be significantly above national levels to control the virus effectively.

‘It beggars belief that six months into this crisis, the Government still does not have a grip on one of the fundamental ways to control the spread.’

In a clear warning shot at officials, he added: ‘Any further failure to increase testing across the capital risks lives with winter approaching.’ 

Signs are emerging that the virus is rebounding in London, with some boroughs seeing the ratio of positive tests per 100,000 people more than double in seven days. 

A London hospital went into partial lockdown yesterday while staff battled an Covid-19 outbreak that has infected seriously-ill patients in its intensive care unit and on a renal ward.

Bosses have placed St Helier Hospital in south London in partial lockdown, restricting visitors and yesterday diverting ambulances from its A&E unit.

The infections were found over the weekend and a major investigation has been launched into how the infection got into patients being treated for other illnesses.

It is believed six patients were infected but there is concern the virus got into the intensive care unit which houses the most sick patients.

A hospital source said: ‘Infection control in intensive care is very strict. It’s very concerning that people fighting for their life already have become infected.’

The Government has been under pressure for months to introduce routine weekly testing of hospital staff for coronavirus.

Last week the House of Commons Health Committee added its weight to the call for regular testing to protect patients.

Covid infections have hit several other hospitals in recent weeks with the finger being pointed at staff spreading the virus.

It is believed hundreds of patients have died during the pandemic from hospital acquired Covid passed on by staff.

A spokesman for Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust said: ‘A small number of patients have tested positive for COVID-19 during admission to the Renal Department and Intensive Care Unit at St Helier Hospital.

‘The safety and wellbeing of our patients and staff is our priority and those who tested positive have been isolated from other patients, with arrangements in place to maintain safe and high-quality care.’

They added: ‘We continue to follow all relevant infection prevention and control guidelines.

‘Visiting has been restricted for some areas, as soon as clinicians are confident that the measures can be lifted in a way that is safe for patients and staff, they will be.’

 

The biggest surge was seen in the leafy suburb of Richmond upon Thames, where cases rose by 154 per cent between September 20 and 27. This happened despite the numbers of tests going down, suggesting it represents a genuine increase.   

Although, PHE statistics show not a single borough has a rate higher than England’s average weekly infection rate of 59 cases per 100,000 people.  

Meanwhile, Camden was the only part of the city to see cases decline in the latter half of September, with the infection rate dropping by 70 per cent. This happened despite more tests being done – the opposite situation to Richmond’s.

London, which was the beating heart of the first wave of the epidemic in spring, is believed to have a higher level of immunity to Covid-19 to the rest of the country – at least one in seven people there are thought to have recovered from the disease already. 

It is not clear whether this means the coronavirus will be slower to spread in the city because scientists still aren’t entirely sure whether people can get infected twice – reports suggest reinfection is possible but usually less serious.

Concerns about Covid-19 spreading out of control in the capital again were discussed in a meeting earlier this week, as health bosses contemplate how a city-wide lockdown could work if one is needed.

Following the meeting on September 22, Mr Khan warned the city is at a dangerous ‘tipping point’ with the virus and warned tighter social distancing rules could be on the way. 

The city currently abides only by national restrictions, which include the ‘rule of six’ and 10pm curfew on bars and restaurants.

PHE’s weekly update, published on Friday, showed infection rates more than doubled in four boroughs of the city – Richmond, Greenwich, Hounslow and Ealing. 

And eight more areas saw cases surge by more than 80 per cent from a week earlier – Sutton, Croydon, Merton, Kingston upon Thames, Barnet, Hammersmith & Fulham, Brent and Hillingdon. 

The data counts the number of people who test positive for every 100,000 people to create a standardised rate of cases per person that is used all over the country. In its most recent report, test data accounts for the week leading up to September 27.

This means the tests should only be slightly affected by last night’s revelation that 16,000 coronavirus cases were not counted between September 25 and October 2 because of a computer error at Public Health England.

The average infection rate for England as of September 27 was 58.5 cases per 100,000 people.

The highest individual rate in the country was in Newcastle, which had an infection rate of 250.5, while the highest rate in London was in Redbridge, with 56.6. 

PHE’s computer error means infection rates may be higher in reality, with analysis suggesting that Manchester actually has the highest rate at 530 per 100,000.  

Liverpool and Knowsley in Merseyside both also have rates higher than 300 cases per 100,000.

It is unknown how significantly London’s rates will be affected by recalculation including missed cases – PHE puts out the only official report once a week on a Friday. 

Although no part of the city has a higher-than-average number of cases, Mr Khan is concerned that the spread of the disease is speeding up.

He held a phone call with the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in late September and has said he is considering tighter social distancing rules like those in the north. 

In much of the north of England people are banned from mixing with other households indoors and from leaving the areas where they live except for work or school.   

It comes after a London hospital went into partial lockdown yesterday while staff battled an Covid-19 outbreak that has infected seriously-ill patients in its intensive care unit and on a renal ward.

Bosses have placed St Helier Hospital in south London in partial lockdown, restricting visitors and yesterday diverting ambulances from its A&E unit.

The infections were found over the weekend and a major investigation has been launched into how the infection got into patients being treated for other illnesses.

It is believed six patients were infected but there is concern the virus got into the intensive care unit which houses the most sick patients.

A hospital source said: ‘Infection control in intensive care is very strict. It’s very concerning that people fighting for their life already have become infected.’

The Government has been under pressure for months to introduce routine weekly testing of hospital staff for coronavirus.

Last week the House of Commons Health Committee added its weight to the call for regular testing to protect patients. Covid infections have hit several other hospitals in recent weeks with the finger being pointed at staff spreading the virus.

It is believed hundreds of patients have died during the pandemic from hospital acquired Covid passed on by staff. A spokesman for Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust said: ‘A small number of patients have tested positive for COVID-19 during admission to the Renal Department and Intensive Care Unit at St Helier Hospital.

‘The safety and wellbeing of our patients and staff is our priority and those who tested positive have been isolated from other patients, with arrangements in place to maintain safe and high-quality care.’

They added: ‘We continue to follow all relevant infection prevention and control guidelines.

‘Visiting has been restricted for some areas, as soon as clinicians are confident that the measures can be lifted in a way that is safe for patients and staff, they will be.’

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