Ministers are facing renewed calls for the imposition of local lockdown restrictions in London during fears coronavirus is spreading more rapidly in the capital than official figures show.
Jas Athwal – the leader of Redbridge Council, the London borough with the highest infection rate – claimed cuts to testing capacity in the city meant the true picture was being “distorted”.
He called for an immediate ban on different households mixing in the most overcrowded areas to prevent the situation getting worse.
“Quite clearly I think in overcrowded parts of London we have got to be looking at bringing that in so that different households can’t mix,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“Mixing face-to-face should be stopped immediately because there are problems and we are seeing there the pandemic take hold. It is only going to get worse with the flu season coming into play as well.”
His warning came after London mayor Sadiq Khan issued a call at the weekend for immediate action to stem the spread of the virus in the city, saying the capital was at a “tipping point”.
Redbridge currently has a seven-day rate of new Covid-19 cases of 68.1 per 100,000 people – up from 45.5 a week ago – making it the the 57th highest in England.
However, Mr Athwal said there had been a sharp fall in the number of tests being carried out over the past two weeks, suggesting the true picture was even worse.
He said that a major testing centre in the borough at Ilford which had been conducting 700 to 800 tests a day had seen those numbers fall to 100 to 150 due to a shortage of capacity in the national laboratories.
“The big problem – and this is the spectre that is looming all over us – is the fact that we have lost 44% of our testing capacity over the last couple of weeks so the numbers could actually be a lot higher than they are being shown all the way across London,” he said.
“If you are losing that kind of capacity, the figures are going to be distorted and they are probably going to be a lot worse than they are being shown across the whole of London.”