LONDON (Reuters) – Every secondary school student in several London boroughs will be tested for COVID-19 as the government tries to tackle a rise in cases that has given London the highest prevalence for the virus in England, risking new restrictions.
Case rates per 100,000 people in London stood at 191.8, according to data from Public Health England (PHE) released on Thursday, putting the city ahead of regions that have stricter rules in place, such as the West Midlands.
Under the tier system brought in when a month-long national lockdown in England ended on Dec. 2, all hospitality outlets except for takeaway orders must close in areas in tier 3.
The capital is currently in tier 2, avoiding the more restrictive category into which large swathes of England were placed, but could now face new rules in the coming days.
“I am particularly concerned about the number of cases in London, Kent and Essex. Cases are rising and in many areas (are) already high,” health minister Matt Hancock told a news conference.
“We’ve decided to put in place an immediate plan for testing all secondary school-aged children in the seven worst affected boroughs of London, in parts of Essex that border London and parts of Kent.”
Britain has Europe’s highest death toll from COVID-19, with more than 62,000 fatalities. Official data on Thursday showed that the economic recovery from the pandemic had almost ground to a halt because of the impact of restrictions which barred people from socialising in pubs and restaurants.
PHE said cases at a national level had plateaued, and the rate of infection had fallen in central and northeastern England, areas which had been placed in tier 3.
There has been discontent about the tier system from lawmakers in the ruling Conservative party, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson had promised it would be reviewed on Dec. 16, holding out the possibility some areas would move to lower categories with fewer restrictions.
(Reporting by Paul Sandle, Michael Holden and Costas Pitas; Editing by Kate Holton and Mark Heinrich)