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Coronavirus: why does London appear to be riding the second Covid wave?

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A couple sit on the Central Line Tube wearing protective face masks while reading a newspaper.
A couple sit on the Central Line Tube wearing protective face masks while reading a newspaper.

Capital city was expected to become a virus battleground but is stemming mass infections

Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
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A couple sit on the Central Line Tube wearing protective face masks while reading a newspaper.

Capital city was expected to become a virus battleground but is stemming mass infections

In Depth Gabriel Power
Friday, November 20, 2020 - 1:00pm

Despite warnings from public health experts that London would likely bear the brunt of a second coronavirus wave in the UK, the capital is faring better than expected as the virus makes a comeback across the country.

Data released this week by the Office for National Statistics showed 952 deaths registered in London in the week ending 6 November, which The Times notes is the “same number as would be predicted based on the average for the past five years”.

Health chiefs are even hoping this weekend could signal the “first decline in Covid cases in London since the start of the second lockdown”, the London Evening Standard says. So as cases continue to rise in other UK cities, how has London bucked the trend?

Supressing the spike

In the week ending 6 November, London was the only one of the nine regions of England used for official statistics not to register any excess deaths. And “by contrast, the 1,900 deaths registered in the north west were 496 higher than average, a difference of 35%”, The Times reports.

The current London rate of almost 200 cases per 100,000 people compares with a rate of 145.2 on 1 November, a relatively shallow rise. As a result of this relative containment of the virus, London has kept winter coronavirus hospitalisations lower than the rest of Britain.

Hospitalisations in London are currently at less than 150 per 100,000 people, compared to around 400 per 100,000 in the north west and Yorkshire and the Humber.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan yesterday said “now more than ever it’s vital that we continue to follow the rules because we still have some very difficult months ahead in our fight against the virus”. He added: “I’m pleased to say that the end is finally coming into sight.”

Quieter summer

There are a number of theories behind London’s better-than-expected performance in handling a second wave.

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Londoners “moved and mixed less during crucial summer months”, The Telegraph reports, adding that during July, August and early September, “London’s bars, restaurants, non-essential shops and offices remained much quieter than those in other parts of the country compared to pre-pandemic times”.

Visits to pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops during the summer months “remained between 50% and 30% below normal levels in London”, analysis by the paper found, while in other areas around the UK “the same metric moved from 40% to just 10%” between July and September.

The Times, meanwhile, suggests that the capital may now have “some level of herd immunity” after a study in September showed 9.4% of Londoners testing positive for Covid-19 antibodies.

The next highest region, the north east, clocked in at 6.5%, while the city’s young population “may also mean a higher level of asymptomatic cases that are not being picked up by national testing systems”, the paper adds.

Capital gains

While London is faring better than other cities in the UK, the global picture is a little different.

The latest government figures show that in a 24-hour period on Thursday, London recorded 2,540 new Covid-19 cases. In New York City, however, the latest figures on Thursday showed an average daily rate of 1,698 new cases over the past week.

In Italy, Milan is one of a number of cities that falls within a region put into a strict lockdown after cases spiked, while Madrid has also been hit hard, resulting in a second lockdown during early October as cases rose across Spain.

Japan reported just 2,201 new cases across the entire country on Wednesday, with fewer than 500 in the capital Tokyo, a city with 28 million more residents than London. 

Science & Health
London Covid-19 Coronavirus

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