A cry for help came this Friday noon from the Mayor of London to the residents of the city centre and the entire metropolitan area: " Londoners continue to make huge sacrifices and 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".
Sadiq Khan made this dramatic statement just minutes after declaring a "major incident" due to the "out of control" spread of the pandemic. "Right now one in thirty Londoners has covid-19. If we don't take immediate action, our NHS could be overwhelmed and more people will die", Khan added.
The data on the pandemic for the last 24 hours, barely published by the British government, confirm the seriousness of the situation and announces that even more dramatic days will come. The UK has recorded 1,325 new deaths, the highest number since the start of the pandemic. And the highest number of infections has also been recorded: 68,053.
Between December 30 and January 6, the number of patients in the city's hospitals has grown by 27%, from 5,524 to 7,034, and the number of those needing mechanical ventilation has increased by 42%, from 640 to the current 908. In the last three days alone, health centres have counted 477 deaths. In the days leading up to Christmas there were about 500 admissions per day. Now there are 830 on average. A hundred firemen have had to join the ambulance service, which is practically saturated. The emergency service has to deal with 8,000 calls a day. In normal times, it would only handle 5,500.
There are more than 7,000 patients with coronavirus in hospitals, which is 35% more than at the highest spring peak. Not only do they occupy a large part of the available hospital beds, but they also generate a collapse effect that directly impacts on the rest of the services.
Royal London Hospital, the largest in the city, has more than 120 patients in the intensive care unit and only has 30 beds more. The problem for the health system is that the number of infections recorded in the last ten days is over half a million, largely concentrated in the south-east of England. In the next two weeks the consequences of the new tsunami of cases could push some hospitals to their limits.
In the words of Kevin Fenton, regional director of the English Public Health System, the city is experiencing "the greatest threat it has faced in this pandemic so far". "The emergence of the new variant [of SARS-CoV-2] means we are setting record case rates, almost double the national average", which is one infection per 50 people. The number of infections per 100,000 is 1,039.5 for the past seven days, by far the highest rate in the entire UK. In the city's worst neighbourhood, however, it is still much higher, at 1,615.
Another worrying statistic is that infections are soaring among older Londoners, which will inevitably add more victims to the count in the coming weeks.
The emergency and the new lockdown has once again left the city empty, especially the centre, which has the ghostly appearance it had in spring. Winter, with the lack of light, accentuates the feeling of desolation even more. Even so, and in spite of the fact that Khan has made a special request to Londoners to wear face masks everywhere, not only in shops or on public transport, it is not compulsory to use them while you are outside.
Khan has written today to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ask for more financial support for Londoners who need to isolate and cannot work, and also for daily vaccination data to be provided - the government already does this, and as of this Friday 1,296,432 people have been vaccinated.