Will London emerge from lockdown before the rest of the UK?

Will London emerge from lockdown before the rest of the UK? Downing Street refuses to rule out easing restrictions in the capital first as plans are unveiled to co-ordinate the city’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis

  • ‘R’ virus reproduction rate  hit 0.4 in London and cases dropped to 0 on one day 
  • Downing Street admits capital could lead the UK out of lockdown this summer 
  • Capital’s £1trillion economy – third of UK GDP – has been on hold for two months 
  • Sadiq Khan and Robert Jenrick will co-chair a new London Transition Board
  • City Hall and Westminster in a bitter row about Tubes and congestion charge 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

London’s 8.9million people could be released from lockdown earlier than other parts of the country if the city’s infection and deaths rates continue to fall at a faster rate, it was revealed today.

The ‘R’ virus reproduction value has dropped to 0.4 in the capital and data yesterday revealed it hasn’t had more than 100 cases a day for a fortnight – down from more than 1,000 a day at the peak of the crisis.  

And today Downing Street did not rule out London emerging sooner than other parts of the nation with the city’s £1trillion economy generating about a third of the UK’s total GDP.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said this afternoon: ‘As we are able to gather more data and have better surveillance of a rate of infection in different parts of the country then we will be able to lift measures quicker in some parts of the country quicker than in others. And equally we will be able to put the brakes on in some parts of the country while not having to do so in other parts.’ 

This afternoon the capital’s Mayor Sadiq Khan and Robert Jenrick, the UK’s Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary, unveiled a strategy to ease London out of lockdown over the coming months including a ‘recovery board’ they will co-chair.

The issue of NHS testing, and Matt Hancock’s delayed track and tracing app, needs to be ironed out first, experts have said.

Separate figures revealed by the Health Secretary last night confirmed London was the worst-hit part of the UK, as he revealed surveillance testing showed 17 per cent of the capital had developed Covid-19 antibodies – suggesting they had already had the virus. In comparison, the rate was three times lower across the rest of Britain.

A near-deserted Trafalgar Square in central London today as Downing Street admitted the capital could be released from lockdown earlier if rates continue to fall

Parks such as Thames Barrier Park in east London are beginning to fill up but the majority of Londoners are working from home – and many are not working at all

Commuters were packed onto the Central Line today on their way back to the workplace – with the issue of Tube capacity a major problem in getting London back to work safely

City Hall and the Government have been involved in a bitter row over after Transport for London needed a £1.6billion bailout package and Sadiq Khan brought back the congestion charge early and bumped it to £15 from June. Both sides then pointed the finger at each other over who demanded the changes.


May 6: 151

May 7: 149

May 8: 94

May 9: 63

May 10: 36

May 11: 68

May 12: 73

May 13: 82

May 14: 81

May 15: 52

May 16: 23 

May 17: 23

May 18: 14

May 19: 2

Numbers in bold are subject to significant change as more test results are confirmed. 

Mr Khan’s management of the Tube has also been questioned by the Prime Minister and senior minister who believe the city’s transport system should be running at 100% rather than 75% of capacity. The reduction of trains has seen social distancing go out the window in rush hour carriages.

But they will now work together on the establishment of a new London Transition Board, which will co-ordinate the capital’s response to issues and risks arising from lockdown being lifted. 

Managing the Tube, bus and train services into London will be one of the board’s key areas to manage.

Other issues for the group will include controlling the infection and the phasing in and out of various levels of lockdown.

The number of new cases being diagnosed in all regions of England has been falling throughout May, with London now declaring fewer than 100 each day for a fortnight. The numbers for the most recent days will rise substantially in the coming days as more test results are confirmed


Almost one in five people in London – 17 per cent – have already had the coronavirus, according to surveillance testing, meaning that around 1.53million people have been infected with the virus and recovered.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced testing for antibodies among a sample of the population has given the government the first indications of how many people have caught the disease already.

Meanwhile the rate across the rest of the UK appeared to be around five per cent, he said, which would equal 2.85million people.

This suggests that the death rate in London is considerably lower – around 0.62 per cent – than it is in the rest of the UK around it, where it appears to be closer to 1.39 per cent.

One expert suggested this could be because the average age of people in London is younger and COVID-19 is known to be more deadly for the elderly. And they claimed the price of land may mean there are fewer care homes, which have been ravaged by the coronavirus since the crisis began to spiral out of control in March.

The data is based on 1,000 tests done in late April and early May by Public Health England as part of its ongoing surveillance survey.

The board will comprise of senior leaders from across the city who will help to provide strategic direction for the next phase of response and restart, remaining in place until the end of 2020.  

Mr Khan pledged that ‘nobody is left behind’ in the city’s recovery from the pandemic.

‘The Covid-19 pandemic is the most significant public health crisis in living memory,’ said Mr Khan.

‘We are not being complacent about the continued threat from coronavirus, but the economic, health and social challenges arising from both the virus itself and from the lockdown are far-reaching, and London’s recovery will be a long and complex road that will take many months, if not years.

‘As mayor, I am committed to securing a better future for Londoners.

‘The city’s recovery from Covid-19 must ensure that nobody is left behind, and no one organisation or sector can tackle these challenges alone.

‘The measures announced today plan to bring together local government, civil and civic society, faith organisations, business, unions and Londoners themselves to reshape London as a city that remains open, safe and attractive for Londoners, visitors and investors.’

Mr Jenrick said that it is right to focus on the safe reopening of London.

He said: ‘I want to thank all of those across London who have worked in partnership with the Government since the start of the pandemic to protect Londoners and keep essential services running.

‘Now we are past the peak it is right that we focus on safely reopening the capital, taking the necessary steps to control the virus.

‘Through this new Transition Board, we will carefully build on the extensive planning already underway to get life and business in London – the most dynamic capital city in the world – safely back on track.’ 

A stark north-south divide has emerged in the number of new coronavirus infections. 

Recent analysis suggests that the ‘R’ virus reproduction rate has fallen to 0.4 in London, with the number of new cases halving every three and a half days. This suggests the virus could be wiped out in the capital within a fortnight.

While the R rate was already falling in London when the country went in to lockdown, it was still high in the regions.

The reproduction rate was 2.3 in the capital, but in the East of England it was three. The North East and Yorkshire started lockdown with the highest R rate at 3.41, the data suggests.

The current R rate for England is 0.75. But in London it is now thought to be around 0.4, the lowest in the country, while in the North East it is 0.8. The decline will fuel the argument lockdown rules should be lifted sooner.

Health chiefs have yet to reveal an official region-by-region breakdown of R rates – but all estimates have shown it to be much lower in London. 

The North East and Yorkshire is estimated to have had 935,000 infections so far, with 4,320 people becoming infected on a daily basis – the highest in England currently.  

Overall, one in five Londoners has been infected by the virus since the epidemic began, according to research. This compares with 14 per cent of people in the North West, 11 per cent in the Midlands, the North East and Yorkshire, ten per cent in the East of England and eight per cent in the South East. 

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