London is locked again. All of the capital’s boroughs are now at level 2, bringing the total number of people in England under increased lockdowns to over 27.7 million.
The new level 2 lockdown restrictions mean people cannot mix with other households indoors (including pubs and other hospitality areas) and Mayor Sadiq Khan said people should limit the number of trips they make using public transport. While the restrictions are a far cry from those which limited peoples’ freedoms in March, they align London with large parts of the northeast and Leicester, which have faced similar lockdown conditions for months.
As with local lockdowns elsewhere in England, questions have been raised about the scope of Level 2 restrictions in London and the decision-making process behind them. Most boroughs are larger than most towns in the rest of the UK, Iain Duncan Smith, Tory MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, told Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the House of Commons. We certainly need to reconsider the London nature of this level 2 position. Even regional areas could be removed. Bromley and Chislehurst MP Robert Neill said he believed the restrictions were neither targeted nor proportionate.
When it comes to Covid-19, not all of London’s 32 boroughs are equal. Ealing (144.8 per 100,000), Richmond upon Thames (137.9) and Hackney and the City of London (128.2) had the highest number cases until October 11. Meanwhile, Greenwich (72.6), Bromley (70.1) and Bexley (68.5) had the fewest cases per 100,000 population.
So why is the whole of London blocked at the same time? Despite the differences in cases between different boroughs, London’s complex infrastructure and ever-changing population help explain why level 2 conditions were enforced across the city.
We considered a district-by-district approach, but due to the integrated nature of London and the fact that unfortunately cases are increasing rapidly in London, we decided that the best approach was for all of London to move to level two. together, Hancock told MPs. . He added that on average, in all districts, the city reached the threshold of 100 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
Others agree. There is a varied picture of the number of cases in different local authorities, says Axel Gandy, president of statistics at Imperial College London who was involved in the construction prediction modeling tools for Covid-19 cases across the UK. But overall, the reproduction number appears to be greater than one across the board. All the zones are on the same track, but of course they are at different points.
Lara Gosc, a modeling researcher at the University College London Institute for Health, says we are well past the introduction of lockdown measures at the district level. Local lockdown measures are most helpful at the start of an outbreak, she says. And this is not the start of an epidemic.
When the infection is already widespread in cities, it is not the closure of airports or the stopping of journeys between one city and another that has the greatest impact, but rather the stopping of local transmission to inside the city itself, adds Gosc. She questions whether lockdowns in London should be set at the higher Tier 3 restrictions that would force pubs to close and prevent households from mingling outdoors.
Tensions over the introduction of lockdown restrictions in London echo those of many others in the country. Since the city’s 3,640 pubs and 7,556 restaurants are not officially closed, they cannot claim government support. Northern leaders have called for greater government support for individuals and businesses as their regions have suffered the consequences of prolonged lockdowns.
Computer scientists and statisticians at Brunel University have worked to simulate outbreaks of Covid-19 in various boroughs of London. Their model uses data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), OpenStreetMap, and various NHS and hospital sources to locally predict the impact of new Covid-19 outbreaks on individual wards. The team working within the framework of Flu and Coronavirus Simulator (FACS) has so far modeled around eight arrondissements.
One thing that we have seen, very clearly, is that the different local measures have quite similar effects in the different districts, explains Derek Groen, professor of simulation and modeling at Brunel. The FACS model recreates every person in a London borough, say 300,000 people in Brent, and simulates their lives.
The people participating in the simulation (called agents) are all assigned jobs and behaviors based on the ONS census data on the area and their movements are modeled. People go to work, visit stores and mingle with others. The model aims to predict the impact of local lockdown measures on the transmission of Covid-19 and is validated against actual data from hospitals. The results of the tool were described as pessimistic.
Groen says the situation is similar in most boroughs, although the big caveat is that less than half of London’s boroughs have been mapped. There are a few differences, but there is no general conclusion, he explains. There is a slight relationship in that the boroughs that seemed to be more affected in the first wave have a slightly flatter curve in the second wave, but that’s a very small difference.
Groen says more data should be available to help create specific models for individual areas. The new lockdown measures have been criticized for not taking into account the higher rates of transmission of Covid-19 among people in BAME communities. There has been no tailored action to try to prevent Covid-19 from operating unchecked across ethnic minority communities again, Parth Patel, who has studied the impact of Covid-19 for the world, told WIRED. Institute for Research on Public Policy.
People are also likely to travel through London for work or socializing, making borough lockdown conditions more difficult to enforce. Google’s latest London movement data (PDF) shows that the use of public transport is down 47% compared to a normal month. Gosc says historical data from Transport for London before the pandemic shows that there are a number of boroughs that people often visit. These include the City of London, Camden and Hackney but also Hammersmith and Fulham, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Newham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets. Other districts are different, however.
People who live in Sutton seem to move mostly within Sutton itself, but if they do move, the areas they travel to the most are Westminster, Corydon and Southwark, Gosc says. While Harrow appears to have most trips to and from Brent, Westminster and Hillington in that order.
At the start of the pandemic, before the national lockdown began, the government Sage committee examined the impact of imposing lockdown conditions on London transport. Members discussed the benefits of stopping or reducing public transport, but concluded it would have minimal effect, the committee concluded March 18. At that time, the city had higher transmission rates than the rest of the UK and the lack of mass testing made it impossible to get a full picture.
There is also the issue of enforcement. Ahead of the new Level 2 lockdown rules in London, city police said they would take stronger action against the worst offenders. Matt Twist, Metropolitan Police chief for Covid-19, said in a statement that the force will step up its efforts against the most willful, harmful and egregious breaches of regulations. People were encouraged to report serious violations by dialing 101 with the Met saying law enforcement will be a last resort.
Imposing the same lockdown conditions on London across the capital will simplify police messages. People will not be able to pretend that they are in a certain area or that they have traveled from one place to mingle with other households. But it’s something that could soon be a problem on the Anglo-Welsh border. Welsh Prime Minister Mark Drakeford said people living in areas with high rates of Covid-19 infections in England would be not be able to travel to Wales.
As the pandemic progressed, police forces have been given more powers to impose fines on people who break lockdown rules, and fines of up to 10,000 can now be imposed for certain rule violations. At first, you can get a lot of compliance from people, because the rules are new, says Zoha Waseem, a researcher at University College London Institute for Global City Policing. But over time, fatigue sets in.
A teenager faced the maximum fine for organize a house party of 50 people. This level of punishment has been rare however, with smaller fines for those breaking the rules. Merseyside gymnasium told to close has been fined 1,000 he refused to do it; a wedding party with over 100 guests was also broken in london.
Waseem says when people are tired of lockdown restrictions, the police should be handled with care. She warns that neighborhoods should not be over-watched and that community tensions should be taken into account. More concretely, it might be helpful for the police to focus on areas where there are more infections and then move away when the situation improves.
Matt Burgess is WIRED’s associate digital editor. He tweets from @ mattburgess1
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