Sadiq Khan Keeps Masks on London Transport Despite Government Ending Mandate

Passengers must continue to wear masks on London’s buses, trains and trams, Mayor Sadiq Khan has said, despite the Government dropping mask requirements elsewhere. While it will no longer be legally enforceable from January 26th – the police will no longer be able to fine you – it will remain a condition of carriage, so TfL can prevent entry or kick you off. The BBC has more.

Earlier, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the end of Plan B pandemic restrictions, including scrapping the legal requirement for mask-wearing on public transport, in shops and schools.

But Mr. Khan says passengers must continue to don a face covering as a condition of carriage, due to the continuing threat of Omicron.

Some 30% of Londoners are unvaccinated.

The restrictions introduced in December also encouraged working from home and mandated Covid passes for some major events.

After examining the latest data, the Mr. Johnson told the Commons that the restrictions would end on January 26th.

But Mr. Khan said he wanted Londoners to continue to mask up, as “sadly this is not the end of our fight against the virus”.

He said: “If we have learnt anything from this pandemic, it is that we must not get complacent and undo all our hard work and sacrifices.

“That’s why face coverings will remain a condition of carriage on TfL services.

“I’m asking everyone in our capital to do the right thing and continue to wear a face covering when travelling on TfL services to keep us all protected and to prevent further restrictions from being necessary later down the line.”

Does Khan really believe that the requirement to wear a mask on public transport has sent Omicron into decline, or is he just making a cynical political calculation? I hope it’s the latter as at least then he can make the cynical calculation the other way once he realises the wind has changed. My fear is that he really believes the fairy story that filthy face rags stop Covid outbreaks.

Worth reading in full.

Daily Cases Fall 40% as London Returns to Normal

Britain’s daily Covid cases plunged for the 12th day in a row today as the Omicron wave continued to collapse and workers headed back to offices in their largest numbers since it took off. MailOnline has more.

Another 84,429 tests came back positive for the virus in the past 24 hours, according to Government dashboard data, down around 41% on last week. Daily cases have fallen week-on-week since January 6th.

There were also 85 coronavirus deaths registered today in a 10% rise compared to last Monday. Latest hospital data shows there were 2,357 admissions on January 11th, virtually unchanged in a week.

In a sign of public confidence in the promising stats, London’s roads were the busiest they have been during the morning rush-hour since the day Boris Johnson confirmed that England would enter Plan B restrictions.

Congestion data recorded by location services company TomTom found the level in the capital between 8am and 9am this morning was at 69% – the highest it has been for that time period in six weeks since December 8th.

The congestion level represents the extra travel time for drivers on average compared to baseline uncongested conditions – so a 69% level means a 30-minute trip will take 21 minutes more than with no traffic.

Today’s figure was also above the 2019 average of 63% and 2020 average of 49% for 8am on a Monday in London – showing there were more cars on the road in the capital today than before the pandemic. The figure last Monday was 61%, while it was just 2% on Monday, January 3rd but this was a bank holiday.

Worth reading in full.

Infections Falling in England, Data Shows – The Same Time as Last Year Despite No Lockdown

The latest data from the ONS infection survey confirms that coronavirus prevalence has been falling in London since the end of last month. This is occurring at the same time as last year, despite no lockdown being imposed this time and the emergence of the Omicron variant.

The data also shows that in the last week of 2021, an estimated 6% of the population of England or one in 15 people would test positive for COVID-19. This compares to a peak prevalence last winter of around 2%, so around three times higher.

The breakdown by age shows high prevalence in all age groups and particularly those under 50. Most age groups appeared to be peaking at the end of December, though in the over-50s infections were rising albeit from a lower level.

Even Professor Lockdown Admits Omicron Plateauing

Professor Neil Ferguson has said Covid hospital admissions in London are flatlining and we can expect them to start falling nationally in a week’s time. MailOnline has more.

One of the Government’s gloomiest advisers today became the latest expert to admit that London’s Omicron outbreak may have already peaked as pressure grew on Boris Johnson to stop the ‘farcical’ self-isolation crisis that threatens to paralyse the nation.

At least half a dozen NHS trusts across England have said they may be unable to deliver vital care to patients in the coming weeks while train operators and bin collection services around the country are having to cancel services because so many staff are off isolating.

There is growing anger among backbench Tory MPs and business leaders that the nation is being ground to a halt by a Covid variant that a mountain of evidence has shown is much milder than previous strains and causes little or no symptoms for the overwhelming majority. …

Professor Ferguson, an epidemiologist who sits on SAGE, said: “I think I’m cautiously optimistic that infection rates in London in that key 18-50 age group, which has been driving the Omicron epidemic, may possibly have plateaued, it’s too early to say whether they’re going down yet.”

He added: “I would say that with an epidemic which has been spreading so quickly and reaching such high numbers, it can’t sustain those numbers forever, so we would expect to see case numbers start to come down in the next week, maybe already coming down in London, but in other regions a week to three weeks.

‘Whether they then drop precipitously or we see a pattern a bit like we saw with Delta back in July – of an initial drop and then quite a high plateau – remains to be seen, it’s just too difficult to interpret current mixing trends and what the effect of open schools again will be.’

Discussing the current Omicron outbreak, Professor Ferguson – nicknamed ‘Prof Lockdown’ for his grim modelling that spooked ministers into introducing draconian curbs last spring – said the variant had not had much time to infect pupils before schools shut for the Christmas break, and a rise in cases is now expected.

“We expect to now see quite high infection levels – of mild infection I should emphasise – in school-aged children.”

He added that the “good news” about Omicron is that “it is certainly less severe” than previous variants of Covid and that has helped keep hospital numbers down compared with previous peaks.

“And then the vaccines – as we always expected they would – are holding up against severe disease and against severe outcomes well.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not going to be as, as the Prime Minister said, a difficult few weeks for the NHS.”

And the normally-pessimistic Professor Lockdown Neil Ferguson – a key No 10 adviser whose modelling has bounced the country into previous lockdowns – claimed infections were plateauing in Omicron hotspot London and could start to fall nationally in just a week.

Worth reading in full.

That’s quite a turnaround from Ferguson’s earlier prediction that Omicron could result in 5,000 deaths a day. But given his track record, does this more optimistic assessment mean Covid admissions to London hospitals are about to start soaring? Let’s hope not!

No Need for New Restrictions, Says Government Minister

Current Covid data does not indicate a need for new restrictions, a Cabinet minister has said. The Telegraph has more.

Steve Barclay, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, indicated that stricter controls were unlikely to be introduced in the coming days, based on the latest hospitalisation and case figures.

On Wednesday, Boris Johnson is set to review the Plan B measures brought in last month, including rules mandating masks in almost all indoor public settings and requiring Covid passports for nightclubs and large events.

Government sources told the Telegraph last week that they were not expecting to repeal any of the Plan B restrictions yet, with adults in England set to be told to continue working from home if possible. The measures are set to roll over to the next review point on Jan 26th.

Senior Tories on Sunday said Plan B must not become a new normal, warning Mr Johnson that the Government must push to “get back to Plan A”.

Mr Barclay’s comments come as daily reported infections in England drop by 24% overnight, to 123,547 on January 2nd down from 162,572 on January 1st. Even taking into account it being a Sunday, when there are usually fewer infections reported, it is a considerable drop.

Infections Are Already Declining in London, Data Suggests

New daily infections are already falling in London, data suggests. The ZOE Covid Symptom Study shows infections falling in the capital since December 27th (see above), a trend that appears to be confirmed by the latest Government reported infection data, where positive tests by specimen date have not been topped since December 21st (see below).

Reported infections in London by specimen date (HMG)

While there will be some testing artefact in the Government data, the corroboration of the apparent peak and decline by the ZOE study (which uses modelled data based on self-reported symptoms) suggests the trend is real.

The infection peak in England last winter occurred around December 26th, according to antibody-based analysis by Imperial College London. If it happens around the same time this winter then it may give support to the notion that it is the festivities of the Christmas season themselves that drive the winter peak to a seasonal herd immunity threshold, triggering a sustained fall throughout the rest of the winter, despite the weather typically becoming colder in January and February.

One in Three Covid Patients May Have Caught Virus in Hospital

Up to one in three Covid patients may have caught the illness in hospital, official figures show. That makes it hard to use the Covid hospitalisation data to justify new lockdown restrictions. The Telegraph has more.

At the peak this week, 31% of Covid patients included in the NHS’ daily admission figures for London had already been in the hospital for more than a week before testing positive, suggesting transmission occurred on the ward.

Separate figures show that of more than 6,000 patients in hospitals across England who have tested positive for coronavirus, 29% of them are primarily being treated by doctors for other conditions.

It comes as the figures for admissions in the capital edge towards the 400 a day mark, which the Government is said to be using as a threshold for introducing new lockdown measures.

Ministers have been carefully watching the picture in London’s hospitals before making any decisions, as its omicron outbreak is a few weeks ahead of the rest of the U.K.

But both scientists and MPs have called on the Government to consider the fact that many patients with Covid may actually be catching it in hospital. They have urged them to discount those being treated for other conditions from their calculations.

Ministers were warned that further restrictions would be “difficult to justify” if they did not look at the facts behind the data.

Worth reading in full.

Omicron Declining in London, Data Suggests

Despite the record reported infections in recent days, the latest data from the UKHSA suggests probable Omicron infections in London are already in decline.

The above chart has been created by Professor Anthony Brookes of Leicester University using the total number of probable Omicron infections (S-gene dropout, SGTF) reported each day by the UKHSA, applying a two-day smoothing and then plotting the daily increase as the day’s new reported infections. It gives an estimation of the number of Omicron infections reported for each English region each day. It shows reported Omicron infections in London peaking on December 18th and declining in the five days following it.

It’s worth noting that there was a data anomaly in Thursday’s report in which several thousand reported Omicron infections for London were retrospectively removed, resulting in a negative infection report on that day, which is why the last two days have dropped so low. This should resolve itself over the next few days, but even so there is no sign of continued growth in London.

The U.K. Covid dashboard shows London total reported infections initially peaking by specimen date on December 15th, which fits with a peak of Omicron by report date of December 18th. According to the UKHSA, Omicron infections were 80-90% of the (low-Ct) infections in London at that point.

Sadiq Khan Calls for Mandatory Face Masks on Public Transport

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called on the Government to re-impose mandatory face masks on public transport and has recommended that members of the public wear them voluntarily in the meantime. Khan has also called on Londoners to protect the NHS this winter by receiving a Covid booster vaccine when it becomes available, as well as to book a place for the annual flu jab. The MailOnline has the story.

The Government has been resistant to bringing in ‘Plan B’ measures, which would see the reintroduction of mandatory facemasks indoors and guidance to work from home and the use of Covid passports.

Mr Khan called for Londoners to get vaccinated against Covid and the flu to protect the NHS this winter.

It comes as official data shows more and more adults in their 30s and 40s are choosing to wear face masks on buses and trains amid spiralling Covid cases.

An Office for National Statistics poll found 33% of middle-aged adults wore coverings while on public transport at the start of September.

But just a month later this had ticked upwards to almost 40%, despite no change in official guidance.

The London Mayor said in a statement that the “deadly virus has not gone away and this winter we’re facing both flu and Covid”.

He added: “The worst thing we can do is to lower our guard, be complacent and underestimate the risk these viruses pose to all of us.

“The situation with Covid in London is so finely balanced that it needs all of us to act together to protect ourselves, our loved ones, the things we enjoy and our NHS this winter.

“That’s why I’m urging all eligible Londoners to have the booster vaccine and flu jab as soon as you are offered it, continue to wear a mask where you can and I’m calling on the Government to put simple and effective steps, such as mandatory face coverings on public transport, in place to halt the spread of the virus now.”

The Mayor’s comments came after a leading scientist suggested measures in ‘Plan B’ may not be needed if data continues to show a decline in cases.

Worth reading in full.

Masks Will Stay on London Transport for “As Long as the Virus Is Still With Us”, Says Sadiq Khan

London commuters hoping to return to normality after July 19th are in for disappointment, as Sadiq Khan says face masks will remain compulsory on transport networks within the city beyond “Freedom Day” and for “as long as the virus is still with us”. London is the first city to announce that it will continue mandating mask-wearing after this date. Greater Manchester looks set to be the next, with Mayor Andy Burnham refusing to “rule out” keeping restrictions. BBC News has the story.

Sadiq Khan said he was not prepared to put Tube, tram and other transport users at risk by relaxing the rules on face coverings.

Face masks have been mandatory on public transport for the past year to reduce the spread of the virus.

But those rules will be replaced with Government guidance advising passengers to wear masks only on busy services.

England is removing most of its Covid restrictions next Monday, and while Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he expects masks to be worn in crowded places, such as on a busy Tube train, their use will no longer be compulsory.

But Mr Khan has gone further and made it a condition of carriage for the Tube, bus, tram, DLR, Overground and TfL Rail.

This means that, despite the easing of restrictions on July 19th, it will be listed as a condition in a legal agreement between TfL and its customers.

Mr Khan said: “We know from the Government’s own advisors and from the World Health Organisation, that wearing a face covering indoors does reduce transmissions.

“It leads to greater public safety and greater public confidence as well.

“As long as the virus is still with us, and as long as we’re still concerned about the virus being transmitted, we will make it compulsory.”

He said he was “confident you will see from Monday high levels of the rules being followed just like there have been since last June”.

TfL’s 400 enforcement officers will deny those without a face covering from using London transport, under the plan.

TfL staff and bus drivers will continue to remind passengers that masks are a requirement, Mr Khan said.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Times Radio this morning that Sadiq Khan’s decision “makes sense”. He is quoted in the Guardian:

We expect carriers to provide rules or what we call conditions of carriage appropriate to their own circumstances. And obviously, London Underground is a particularly crowded network. And, of course, we said people should wear masks in crowded areas. So just in the same way as the airlines have made it a stipulation – an ongoing stipulation – we expected – indeed invited TfL – to do the same thing. So no surprises there. And if you think about it, it makes sense.

Also worth reading in full.