NEWS
01/10/2020 17:25 BST

Ministers Ignored Plea To Lock Down London Because It's A Labour City, Hints Sadiq Khan

The London mayor has urged Boris Johnson to "realise we're on the same side" and set aside party politics in the face of coronavirus.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

London mayor Sadiq Khan has suggested the government ignored his pleas for stricter coronavirus measures in the capital because of party politics.

Khan also said ministers lack the humility to change their approach to tackling the outbreak despite it clearly being unsuccessful.

When asked why the government had not placed London into lockdown despite his calls for stricter measures, Khan told HuffPost UK: “What the government needs to realise is we’re all on the same side; it’s not a Tory government versus a Labour mayor.

“It’s actually all of us on the same side fighting this virus and what I’m saying to the government is: ‘Let’s work together to take preemptive action to avoid the need for a national lockdown.’ I do not want that and it’s really important we do what we can to avoid it.

“I think the government has been slow throughout this pandemic. They were slow in February and March – and they tend to be slow now. It’s inexcusable.

Khan’s comments come as local leaders in the north of England hit out at the government over lockdown restrictions set to come in on Saturday.

Middlesbrough mayor Andy Preston has vowed to “defy the government” over the restrictions in his town, accusing ministers of “monstrous ignorance”. His stance was backed by Hartlepool Council leader Shane Moore.

Last week, Khan spoke with prime minister Boris Johnson to seek approval of new local lockdown measures in the capital.  

That did not happen but London was placed on the government’s coronavirus local lockdown watchlist following a surge in cases – meaning stricter restrictions could be imposed if cases continue to rise.

“The government doesn’t appear to be nimble and quick at responding to this virus or have the humility to realise when they’ve got things wrong and change course,” Khan continued.

“I’ll continue to engage with the government and work with the government when I can. But the government needs to work with regional and local government across the country to make sure we get a grip on this virus.”

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS via Getty Images

Khan wants to break rank and exercise the freedom to impose restrictions in the capital as he sees fit – including a review of the 10pm pub curfew. 

He added: “What I’m saying to the government is we, the city, want to go as one. So I’m meeting councillors and Public Health England later on. We want to take preemptive action so, for example, so I think the 10pm curfew isn’t working.

“It’s counterproductive when I see the numbers of people outside bars, restaurants and nightclubs after 10pm – not only is the increase not being decelerated it actually could be getting worse.”

Khan was speaking on Thursday as an independent report he commissioned was published, revealing the stark inequalities that have led to a disproportionate impact of the virus.

It found that Black people are at almost twice the risk of dying from Covid-19 than White people and mortality rates from the virus are three times higher for men in lower-paid, manual roles.

As campaigners urge the government to ramp up measures to protect Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities who are being disproportionately affected by the virus, ministers stand accused of not caring about marginalised groups.

Khan said he understands the concerns.

“I think the government’s got to walk the walk. Sometimes they talk the talk,” he said. “The reality is Black people in our country tend to work more in manual jobs than office or managerial jobs so what we’ve seen over the last few months is even though the government were forewarned about the potential disproportionate impact of Covid-19, no action was taken.

“So I understand why Black Londoners and Black people across the country think the government doesn’t care about them. 

“The reason why I published the report today is we now know we’re into a second wave. It’s possible to give the government the benefit of the doubt about not realising the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 in the first wave. This report being published today with recommendations that I’ve sent to the government means there can be no excuse if we see, over the next few weeks and months, a disproportionate impact on Black people.”

PA

Since the first wave, the ethnicities of hospital deaths are being recorded and occupational risk assessments are being undertaken so frontline workers with underlying health conditions are placed at risk in their line of duty.

But there’s a lot more that needs to be done.

“The issues that affect the structural racism that exists haven’t been addressed and the government seems to be hesitant to accept there’s a problem and if you can’t accept there’s a problem, you can’t take action,” the mayor said.

“My fear is amplified by the fact that we know we’ve entered a recession but also if we’re not careful this recession will be extremely deep and having lived through the 1980s where Black people suffered disproportionately with mass unemployment I worry about another generation being written off in the 2020s like they were in the 1980s.”

The report also revealed that the pandemic has negatively impacted disabled Londoners who reported increased difficulties performing practical tasks such as shopping for groceries, as well as accessing up-to-date health information about the virus.

Concerns were also raised around the lack of guidance available in accessible formats, including in the government’s daily press briefings which did not always feature British sign language interpreters.

Almost four in five (79 per cent) of LGBTQ+ people said their mental health had been negatively impacted by the lockdown, and many young LGBTQ+ people have reported feeling unsafe in their current housing conditions.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Manchester and co-authored with the University of Sussex and The Ubele Initiative, the London based social enterprise. 

Reflecting on the past seven months, Khan added: “Londoners have made monumental sacrifices over the last few months and I’m very grateful for them doing so. But we’ve also suffered more than 8,000 deaths and a number of people losing their businesses and jobs. So, the health and economic crisis are linked.”