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Covid UK: Is London taking ITSELF into lockdown?

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Parts of London‘s West End were effectively in lockdown today as theatre shows were suspended and pubs and restaurant suffered a wave of cancellations triggered by mounting fears over the new Covid variant sweeping the capital. 

Big-budget productions from The Lion King at the Lyceum to Life of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre halted performances due to virus outbreaks among their cast and crew – a decision which is costing producers hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of A Comedy Of Errors at the Barbican and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in Wembley were also cancelled, while the National Theatre postponed a preview of Hex after a lead actor caught the virus.

Others which have been suspended include The Rhythmics at Southwark Playhouse, Force Majeure at Donmar Warehouse and Fair Play at the Bush Theatre. Moulin Rouge at Piccadilly Theatre also suspended shows but has now restarted.

Restaurants and pubs in the West End have been left ‘devastated’ by people cancelling bookings due to fears over the spread of the so-called ‘Omicron’ variant, which has become the dominant Covid strain in London.

The capital’s Covid infection rate has spiralled to its highest level since January, when stringent curbs were in place, rising 55 per cent in a fortnight from 347 to 537 cases per 100,000 people. And hospitalisations have risen by 50 per cent over the same period, from 90 to 140 admissions a day on average. Deaths remain flat but it can take up to a month for fatalities to start rising due to the time it takes to fall seriously ill.

Sadiq Khan’s spokesman suggested the Mayor of London would back local restrictions, saying it was better to ‘act now’ rather than wait for the virus to spiral out of control.

But Tory representatives urged Government ministers to rely on ‘strong vaccine protection’ and ramp up Boris Johnson’s booster drive instead. 

Almost every one of the 90 restaurants in the area have suffered cancellations in the past week with bookings down by at least 20 per cent in what should be their busiest time of the year – and they fear the introduction of controversial vaccine passports will spell the end for many businesses in the hospitality industry.

One pub manager in Covent Garden said every single booking for a Christmas party in their private room was cancelled last week, while a nearby restaurant had 100 people cancel in just one day over the weekend.

West End shopper numbers are still 30 per cent down on pre-pandemic levels, with business group New West End Company blaming the ‘hammer blow’ of Government orders to work from home returning this week.

UK Hospitality said venues had been limiting their menus and closing on slower trade days in recent months, with the emergence of Omicron having caused even more closures.

The trade body’s chief executive Kate Nicholls told MailOnline today: ‘Venues in Central London were already suffering from staff shortages, prior to the Omicron variant. Recent announcements have triggered high levels of cancellations and consumer confidence has fallen through the floor due to the uncertainty that is now prevalent. Due to labour and supply chain shortages, venues all across the country were limiting their menus and trading days due to a lack of staff.

‘This is the time of year when some venues make up to 25 per cent – sometimes more – of their annual revenue which carries them through the fallow months of January, February and March.

‘In no other public spaces has so much time, money and effort been invested to safeguard the wellbeing of staff and customers – hospitality venues are certainly the safest places in which to celebrate the festive period with family and friends.’

The Lion King

The Lion King

The Lion King, which is one of London’s most popular musicals and is now in its 21st year at the Lyceum (pictured today), said that performances today and tomorrow were cancelled ‘due to Covid-enforced absences within our cast and crew’

The Royal Shakespeare Company's The Comedy of Errors at the Barbican in London has had to cancel a raft of shows

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Comedy of Errors at the Barbican in London has had to cancel a raft of shows

Cases of the Omicron variant in England. Areas that had picked up the mutant strain over this fortnight are coloured orange

This map shows areas where the Omicron variant has been detected in England. The orange colour means there are only a few cases, while red and black suggests indicates there are more cases. Yellow means there are no cases

The above maps show areas where the Omicron Covid variant has been detected in England over the two weeks to November 20 (left), and to December 4 (right). Areas where the variant has been detected are not coloured yellow. It shows how it has gone from just one local authority, to about half of the country. Areas with darker colours have detected more cases

The above graph shows the seven-day average for hospital admissions in different regions of England. It reveals that in London (orange) there has been a steady increase

The above graph shows the seven-day average for hospital admissions in different regions of England. It reveals that in London (orange) there has been a steady increase 

This graph shows the Covid infection rate per 100,000 people in England's regions. It also shows there has been a rapid uptick in London (red) while cases remain largely flat in other regions

This graph shows the Covid infection rate per 100,000 people in England’s regions. It also shows there has been a rapid uptick in London (red) while cases remain largely flat in other regions

The above graph shows how Omicron cases are rising across England's regions. PCRs search for three specific genes to tell whether someone has Covid, but with Omicron one of the genes is so mutated - the S-gene - that it does not show up with the tests. Cases with this gene missing are coloured purple above, with the graph showing their numbers quickly increasing

The above graph shows how Omicron cases are rising across England’s regions. PCRs search for three specific genes to tell whether someone has Covid, but with Omicron one of the genes is so mutated – the S-gene – that it does not show up with the tests. Cases with this gene missing are coloured purple above, with the graph showing their numbers quickly increasing

Restaurants and pubs in the West End have been left 'devastated' by people cancelling bookings due to fears over the spread of the so-called 'Omicron' variant

Restaurants and pubs in the West End have been left ‘devastated’ by people cancelling bookings due to fears over the spread of the so-called ‘Omicron’ variant

Almost every one of the 90 restaurants in the area have suffered cancellations in the past week with bookings down by at least 20 per cent in what should be their busiest time of the year

Almost every one of the 90 restaurants in the area have suffered cancellations in the past week with bookings down by at least 20 per cent in what should be their busiest time of the year

Sadiq Khan’s spokesman suggested the Mayor of London would back local restrictions, saying it was better to ‘act now’ rather than wait for the virus to spiral out of control

Sadiq Khan’s spokesman suggested the Mayor of London would back local restrictions, saying it was better to ‘act now’ rather than wait for the virus to spiral out of control

London theatre shows cancelling performances 

The Lion King: Performances of the hit musical today and tomorrow have been cancelled ‘due to Covid-enforced absences within our cast and crew’. Producers aim to restart shows on Thursday and apologised ‘for the disappointment and for any inconvenience’.

Life of Pi: The show, which only opened last week, had to cancel performances between last Thursday and today. The production said ‘several’ cases of Covid-19 were detected among the company. 

The Comedy of Errors: The Royal Shakespeare Company’s show at the Barbican in London has had to cancel all performances up to and including December 22 ‘due to cases of Covid-19 in the company’.

Hex: The National Theatre cancelled last night’s preview of its Christmas show Hex and then postponed its press night from tomorrow to December 21. 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: The National show, which is currently playing at the Wembley Park Theatre before going on tour next month, has also had to cancel performances including today’s matinee and shows tomorrow and on Thursday.

The Rhythmics: The musical at Southwark Playhouse has had to cancel all remaining shows ‘due to positive Covid-19 cases within the company’. The last show was on December 11 and it was due to run until January 8.

Force Majeure: The Donmar Warehouse said it had to cancel last night’s performance of Force Majeure due to a ‘suspected case of Covid-19 within the company’.

Fair Play: Bush Theatre cancelled last night’s show of Fair Play due to ‘Covid isolation requirements’.

Moulin Rouge: The show at the Piccadilly Theatre restarted performances on Monday following a ten-day pause for Covid-related reasons.

The Lion King, which is one of London’s most popular musicals and is now in its 21st year at the Lyceum, said that performances today and tomorrow were cancelled ‘due to Covid-enforced absences within our cast and crew’.

Producers aim to restart shows on Thursday and said those due to attend today or tomorrow would be ‘contacted by email in the coming days’ and given information on how to exchange tickets, get a credit voucher or a refund. 

They added: ‘We apologise for the disappointment and for any inconvenience this may cause. Thank you for your continued support. We look forward to welcoming you to see the show on a future date.’

Meanwhile the new show of Life of Pi, which only opened last week, had to cancel performances between last Thursday and today.

The production, which recently extended booking until 29 May 2022 with the release of 70,000 new tickets, said ‘several’ cases of Covid-19 were detected among the company.

The show’s producers said in a statement: ‘Despite the robust measures taken, unfortunately there have been several cases of Covid in the company and performances have had to be cancelled until and including Monday December 13.

‘Audiences will be contacted by their point of purchase. We look forward to welcoming people back to Wyndham’s Theatre from December 15 (tomorrow).’

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Comedy of Errors at the Barbican in London has had to cancel all performances up to and including December 22 ‘due to cases of Covid-19 in the company’.

An RSC spokesman said: ‘The combination of cases means that we are unable to go ahead with our rehearsed understudies of alternative versions of the show. Our priority is keeping everybody safe, and cancelling performances is a last resort.’

The National Theatre’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which is currently playing at the Wembley Park Theatre before going on tour next month, has also had to cancel performances.

A spokesman for the show tweeted: Despite robust safety measures on the production, members of the company of #CuriousIncident at @troubadourWPark have unfortunately tested positive for COVID.

‘As a result, we regrettably have had to cancel today’s matinee performance at 2pm, Wednesday 15 December at 7pm and Thursday 16 December at 2 and 7pm.

‘Ticket holders will be contacted by their point of sale to rebook for a performance of their choice.’

Another show to cancel today was the Rhythmics musical at Southwark Playhouse. A spokesman said:’ Hey folks. We are so incredibly sad to have to let you know that due to positive Covid-19 cases within the company, we have found it necessary, along with the producers, to cancel the remainder of the run of The Rhythmics.

‘Confirmed positive cases have lead to multiple performance cancellations, and the company have had press night postponed twice, throwing the future of this limited-run production into uncertainty.

Theatre cancellations

Theatre cancellations

The Donmar Warehouse said it had to cancel last night’s performance of Force Majeure due to a ‘suspected case of Covid-19 within the company’. The National Theatre’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has also had to cancel shows

Theatre cancellations

Theatre cancellations

The Rhythmicsat Southwark Playhouse has had to cancel all remaining shows ‘due to positive Covid-19 cases within the company’. Bush Theatre cancelled last night’s performance of Fair Play due to ‘Covid isolation requirements’

Life of Pi at Wyndham's Theatre (pictured today) has halted performances due to Covid-19 cases within their cast and crew

Life of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre (pictured today) has halted performances due to Covid-19 cases within their cast and crew

‘The effect of Covid-19 isolation requirements along with this uncertainty has meant that the most viable option for all involved is for performances to cease, with the show’s last performance having played on December 11.’

At Tutton's restaurant in the West End, bookings are down by up to 20%. Manager Daniel Baldachino said he has seen bookings for 30 people slashed to just 13 people turning up

At Tutton’s restaurant in the West End, bookings are down by up to 20%. Manager Daniel Baldachino said he has seen bookings for 30 people slashed to just 13 people turning up

The Donmar Warehouse said it had to cancel last night’s performance of Force Majeure due to a ‘suspected case of Covid-19 within the company’, while Bush Theatre cancelled last night’s performance of Fair Play due to ‘Covid isolation requirements’. 

Meanwhile Moulin Rouge at the Piccadilly Theatre restarted performances on Monday following a ten-day pause for Covid-related reasons.

The National Theatre cancelled last night’s preview of its Christmas show Hex and then postponed its press night from tomorrow to December 21.

According to BBC News, its artistic director Rufus Norris wrote in a letter to critics: ‘You will no doubt be aware of the impact that Covid has been having on productions across the industry (none of ours over the last year have escaped entirely) but the impact on Hex has been considerable, with several members of the company including one of our leads being taken ill during the technical and preview period.’

Emma Prior, manager of the Nags Head pub in Covent Garden, said every single booking for a Christmas party in their private room was cancelled last week.

Managers of restaurants have also experienced mass cancellations while for some bookings have almost dried up in the run up to Christmas. 

At Street Burger Gordon Ramsay, 40 people cancelled their lunch booking at the weekend while a further 60 called to cancel their evening reservation.

Manager David Nowak said the fear of the new Covid variant was behind the multiple cancellations which he described as ‘devastating.’

‘Most people cancel via the website, so we don’t know the reason, but it is fear of the new variant. This should be our busiest time of the year, but it is now the quietest.’

The Covent Garden area, with its mixture of shops, restaurants, and street performers, is one of London’s most popular tourist destinations with up to 44million visitors a year.  

A very quiet London Euston train station this morning as people continue to follow Government advice to work from home

A very quiet London Euston train station this morning as people continue to follow Government advice to work from home

A quiet Piccadilly line train carriage on the London Underground today during the morning rush hour

A quiet Piccadilly line train carriage on the London Underground today during the morning rush hour

People pass through London Waterloo train station during the morning rush-hour today amid the work from home guidance

People pass through London Waterloo train station during the morning rush-hour today amid the work from home guidance

Tory backbenchers prepare to rebel against vaccine passport plans

Boris Johnson faces the biggest revolt of his premiership today as a third of Tory backbenchers prepare to rebel against his Plan B vaccine passport measures.

As many as 79 Conservative MPs – equivalent to the Government’s working majority – are ready to vote against plans that will mean the NHS Covid pass is required for entry at larger venues.

Downing Street suggested that hospitality venues could be forced to close without vaccine passports. But critical MPs claim the ‘illiberal’ measures, set to come into force from tomorrow, will not work.

Several ministerial aides are on resignation watch. Such a large rebellion will be a major blow to the Prime Minister but he will escape an embarrassing defeat as Labour has said it will back the measures.

Yesterday one leading rebel, Tory MP Marcus Fysh, sparked a furious row by likening their introduction to the policies pursued in Nazi Germany. ‘This is not Nazi Germany,’ he told the BBC. ‘It’s the thin end of an authoritarian wedge and that’s why we will resist it.’

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said his remarks were ‘completely unacceptable’.

Travel restrictions have meant stores and restaurants have seen a marked drop in the number of visitors in 2021. 

Many had hoped the lifting of lockdown last July and easing of travel restrictions would see an influx of tourists – with heightened fears over the Omicron variant putting people off from being in a crowded place.

Boards dotted around Covent Garden display the names of 90 restaurants and 39 cafes that are usually packed all year round with office workers and tourists.

Many are at their busiest in the evening when thousands of people arrive to see theatre shows. At Street Burger having been opened for 90 minutes Mr Nowack welcomed his first customers, a party of three who had a booking.

Other restaurants have seen bookings fall by 20 per cent and staff said the introduction of vaccine passports will ‘kill off’ their trade.

‘We are lucky in that we get a lot of people who just pop in, but if the vaccine passport is introduced it will kill off the trade,’ said Miss Prior at the Nag’s Head.

‘Since lockdown was lifted business has bounced back massively and we do not want anything that will put people from coming in. I’ve heard half the people in London have not been vaccinated so it would be devastating for us.’

At Joe Allen restaurant, a favoured haunt for celebrities, manager Francesco Fais said he had seen a steady stream of cancellations. ‘We are 20 per cent down on what we should be at this time of the year,’ he said.

‘People are calling all the time to cancel. Today we had 65 covers for lunch and it is now down to 45. Ever since people heard about the new variant it has been pretty much devastating. 

‘Added to that my staff have not been able to get hold of lateral flow tests so they can’t come in. Staff numbers are down anyway so all in all it is not good.’

At the nearby Tutton’s restaurant bookings are down by up to 20 per cent with many corporate parties planned in the next two weeks already cancelled.

Manager Daniel Baldachino said he has seen bookings for 30 people slashed to just 13 people turning up. ‘If there is a booking for eight people, we usually get two or three who turn up.

‘I would say 20 per cent of the Christmas parties we had booked for corporate clients have been cancelled. People who have put down a deposit usually turn up, but not everyone in the group.’

 

 

The Omicron Covid variant spreading at a ferocious pace in the UK has become dominant in London barely two weeks after it was first detected, health chiefs revealed today

 The Omicron Covid variant spreading at a ferocious pace in the UK has become dominant in London barely two weeks after it was first detected, health chiefs revealed today

Omicron becomes DOMINANT in London as data shows city’s hospital admissions have risen 50% since super-mutant variant first emerged

The Omicron Covid variant spreading at a ferocious pace in the UK has become dominant in London barely two weeks after it was first detected, health chiefs revealed today.

Professor Kevin Fenton, the capital’s director of public health, said data suggested the super-strain was already behind at least one in every two new infections in the city, up from 44 per cent just yesterday.

As the country’s major transport hub, London quickly became England’s Omicron epicentre after South Africa first raised the alarm on November 24. It is thought to have been seeded in the capital by travellers flying into the UK.

The capital’s Covid infection rate has spiralled to its highest level since January when stringent curbs were in place, rising 55 per cent in a fortnight from 347 to 537 cases per 100,000 people.

And hospitalisations in the city have risen by 50 per cent over the same period, from 90 to 140 admissions a day on average. Deaths remain flat but it can take up to a month for fatalities to start rising due to the time it takes to fall seriously ill.

Other restaurant manager said they had seen a sharp increase in cancellations following the Prime Minister’s TV address at the weekend.

‘We knew this was going to happen when people were told to work from home,’ said the manager of an Italian chain restaurant who asked not to be named.

‘If people are at risk from going into work why are they going to want to sit in a packed restaurant and risk catching the virus. The Government are going to have to give some financial support to the hospitality industry. We are being hung out to dry.’

Jace Tyrrell, chief executive at New West End Company, said: ‘Whilst the safety of the public remains our top priority, we are extremely concerned about the long-term survival of many of the retail and hospitality businesses in our district. 

‘After nearly two years of interrupted trading, and associated rising costs, many West End businesses have used up their cash reserves and need immediate cash flow support. 

‘Retail and hospitality is the largest private sector employer in Britain, and it is vital that the Government now focuses on how it can help match the pace of restrictions with vital business support. 

‘We urge the Government to look at temporary measures to ease pressure on cash flow, such as reducing or delaying VAT payments, business rates and other corporate costs. We must see a clear path out of Plan B and back to recovery.’

The number of morning rush-hour commuters using the London Underground has plunged by more than a quarter in just a week as Britons switch back to working from home and shun going into the office.

Around one million passengers entered or exited the Tube network up to 10am this morning, which was down 26 per cent on the same period on Tuesday last week and less than half (45 per cent) of normal pre-pandemic levels.

Transport for London reported that bus usage across the capital also fell this morning to 1.16million Oyster or contactless card taps, which was down 8 per cent on last week but still at 70 per cent of pre-Covid numbers. 

The difference between Tubes and buses is partially because the latter are more regularly used by children going to school as normal and lower-paid Londoners in key worker roles that require them to travel in to their workplace. 

While the total number of people on the TfL network today was roughly equal to yesterday, it was a bigger fall because Mondays have been generally quieter in recent months as more people tend to work from home then. 

TfL, which runs the capital’s buses and Tubes, yesterday recorded an 18 per cent reduction in Tube journeys up to 10am, while bus usage dropped 6 per cent.  

However, across all of yesterday, the week-on-week fall was only 12 per cent on Tubes and 2 per cent on buses, mostly because leisure travel has not fallen as much as commuting. 

Transport bosses in the capital added that the biggest reductions came from stations in the City of London where there were around 318,400 entry and exits yesterday compared to around 415,300 last week. In terms of Tube stations linked specifically to shopping locations, TfL saw nearly 541,000 entry and exits yesterday, compared to around 581,000 entry and exits during the same period last week.

Meanwhile the congestion level reported by TomTom in the capital between 7am and 8am today was 48 per cent – the lowest for that period on a Tuesday since before the summer holidays, when half-term is excluded. 

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