Southwark residents urged to think carefully about Christmas mixing as cases surge

Josh Salisbury (16 December, 2020)

Cases are surging in Southwark, prompting concern about Christmas bubbles

35313Picture of the coronavirus

Southwark is facing a rapid increase in Covid cases, as the council’s boss warns residents to think twice about mixing with family members at Christmas.

Officials at the town hall have been presented with data showing the biggest pace of increase in cases in Southwark since the spring.

Amid a “worrying” surge of new infections, the council’s boss Cllr Kieron Williams told the News he feared the impact of the government’s decision to allow greater mixing for Christmas.

Under the rule relaxations, Southwark families can form bubbles of up to three households between December 23 to 27 – even though the capital has been plunged into harsh tier three restrictions this week.

“I think the government has got it wrong on this,” he said. “We all want Christmas with friends and family, that’s really important for people.

“But I think the message the government has been sending out, that Christmas is more important than anything else, is the wrong one.

“I’d urge people to think very carefully to do the right thing for your family, and keep your family safe.”

Cllr Kieron Williams, Southwark Council leader

However, Cllr Williams stopped short of calling for others to follow his lead and not take part in Christmas ‘bubbles’ with other households completely, saying: “People are going to have to make their own decisions.”

As the News went to press, Southwark was placed into tier three restrictions, the highest possible level outside of national lockdown.

It means pubs and restaurants have been forced to close, while most socialising outside your household is banned, except in outdoor open spaces subject to limits.

While the borough has seen lower rates generally than other boroughs, new infections are rising rapidly.

“The data that’s just coming out… it’s really worrying,” said the council chief, speaking to this paper on Monday.

“There’s been a big increase in the last three or four days, that’s the biggest increase since April time.

“We have to take action quickly, because only if you do that can we avoid the kind of doubling rates you saw back in spring.”

The increase in new infections is not consigned to any one part of the borough; the only age group who are not showing a particular rise are the under-fives.

The council’s offices on Tooley Street

Southwark did not ask its schools to close early this week. Greenwich’s council leader had asked its schools to move to online learning, only for the Department for Education to issue a command that they stay open.

Some will have already broken up for the winter break as some schools are taking Friday as an inset day.

Officials hope to use the period while schools are off to prepare for wider ramping up of lateral flow tests in schools in the new year.

Care homes is also another setting where officials will be rolling out the tests.

Even as vaccines are now being rolled out from Southwark’s hospitals – Guy’s and St Thomas’ and King’s College patients are among those getting the jabs – the coronavirus crisis could yet get worse before it gets better.

“This is another really difficult moment,” said Cllr Williams. “Like we all have over the last year, it’s another moment that Southwark residents need to come together to make those changes in our lives needed to get the rates down again.”

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Cllr Kieron Williams