By Hadia Bakkar, Erin Lister, Joe Coughlan, Cerys Holliday, Amarachi Ngwakwe, Charlotte Doyle
As Christmas draws closer, Covid-19 cases are on the rise. The swift spread of the Omicron variant and warning from chief medical officer for England Chris Witty to prioritise events that matter most has led many to change their Christmas plans.
Government figures show that Tower Hamlets, Lewisham and Hackney have some of the highest rising infection rates across the country.
Tower Hamlets and Hackney have also seen a particularly low uptake of booster vaccinations, with only 18 per cent and 19.1 per cent of residents aged 12 and over having received their third vaccination respectively as of December 15. This is less than half of the nationwide figure, which stood at 44.3 per cent on the same date.
Whilst not among the lowest in the country, Lewisham and Croydon also remain below average in their booster vaccination uptake. By December 15, the figure of residents over 12 who had received three doses of the Covid-19 vaccine stood at 24.3 per cent in Lewisham and 27.7 per cent in Croydon.
Overall, there have been reports of rising cases and event cancellations across all ELL boroughs. Whilst no major closures have been reported, many hospitality businesses have spoke of a significant drop in customer numbers since Boris Johnson announced the work from home order earlier this week, and some events have been cancelled.
Read below for more detailed updates on each of the boroughs.
Confirmed Covid-19 cases in Tower Hamlets have increased again, according to the UK Health Security Agency.
Cases have risen by 178 per cent between December 10 and December 16, with a total of 1,122 people confirming a positive test result on December 16 alone.
As of December 10, data released by the UKHSA, revealed that Tower Hamlets had 7 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant, with an additional 27 suspected cases.
Tower Hamlets, as it has been throughout the pandemic, has continued to see one of the lowest turn outs for vaccination in the country. By December 15, 65.2 per cent of residents had their first vaccine dose and 58.2 per cent had their second. The uptake of the booster equally low, with just 18 per cent of people aged 18-plus having a third vaccination.
The council have prompted residents to get vaccinated to increase vaccination rates in the borough. They tweeted information about where people can get their booster vaccines, along with available places to receive vaccinations, both by appointment and walk-in. The information is also available on an interactive map on their website.
They include: Queen Mary’s University, E1 4NS, Boots Pharmacy, Canary Wharf, E14 5NY, New City College, E14 0AF, and East London Mosque, E1 1JQ.
Schools have remained open, and will end their term as planned, between today and December 21.
Some events have also been cancelled. Tower Hamlets Council have chosen to cancel the Victory Day concert this evening, which was arranged as a part of their fifty year celebration of Bangladesh independence.
Bars and restaurants, similarly, have seen a decline in business since the recent work from home measures returned.
Murat Kilic, Owner of Amber Restaurant in Whitechapel, told ELL: “More than half our customers are from offices. We normally serve between 70-80 during lunch time and today we’ve only served 10 people.”
Given the decline Kilic has considered closing earlier for the holiday season. “All the Christmas bookings got cancelled,” he said.
“At first we were open until Thursday, but now we may close on Monday.”
Covid-19 cases are still rising in Lewisham, with an increase of 124.3 per cent of positive test results compared to the last week.
According to government data, 942 people in Lewisham had a confirmed positive test result yesterday.
Between December 10 and December 16, 3,809 people had a confirmed positive test result. There were also 4 deaths between these dates, showing a decrease of 20 per cent compared to the previous week.
As of December 6, there are 53 suspected Omicron cases within the borough, making Lewisham an Omicron hotspot, according to the UK Health Security Agency.
Residents have experienced large queues, waiting times and some have been turned away at vaccination centres for the booster jab, despite Boris Johnson’s recent announcement that over 18-year-olds are now eligible, provided it is three months after their second dose.
On Thursday, Lewisham Hospital turned away walk-ins for Covid booster jabs due to the increase in demand. One resident tweeted: “Big queue at Lewisham Hospital this afternoon – no more walk ins”.
They also added a photo of the hospital’s poster, reading: “We are not accepting any more walk in’s today 16/12/2021”.
It is clear that some groups and businesses have chosen to limit social gatherings in the area. For example, the community club, Lewisham Mencap, have halted their Thursday club.
Vaccination uptake in Lewisham has been among the lowest in the UK. Government data has revealed that 66.3 per cent of people in Lewisham have been given the first dose of the vaccine and 60.3 per cent of people had their second dose as of Wednesday evening. A further 24.3 per cent had received their booster by this date.
A range of walk-in clinics are open to administer the first and second vaccination doses, as well as the booster jab. This includes: The Waldron Medical Centre, New Cross Pharmacy, Vantage Pharmacy, Brook Pharmacy and Lewisham Pharmacy. You can find more information and updates here.
If you wish to book a vaccination appointment instead, you can visit the NHS website here.
Bookings via the NHS website are now open to 18-30 year-olds for the booster jab. You can book here.
Lewisham vaccination sites need volunteers to help support the rollout of Covid-19 booster jabs across the borough, particularly Marshals to help with advice and queue management. If you wish to volunteer, you can sign up and find more information here.
Covid cases in Croydon have increased by 73%, with 3,587 cases reported for the borough between December 8 and 14 compared to the 2,073 cases the week before, according to government data.
Vaccination rates are slightly higher in Croydon than other ELL boroughs but are still below the countrywide percentages. By December 15, 67.7 per cent of residents had received their first vaccination, with 61.4 per cent receiving their second. Over a quarter of residents, 27.2 per cent had received their booster by the same date.
Vaccination centres in the borough are currently operating at increased opening hours. St. Aidan’s Church Hall in South Croydon is currently only accepting appointments.
Other centres in Croydon that are open for walk-ins include Centrale Shopping Centre, Mayday Community Pharmacy, Aumex Pharmacy, Bids Chemist and Impact House. Information on all nine centres can be found here.
Bars and restaurants in the borough have also faced numerous cancelations given the recent rise in Covid numbers.
Zoran Jojovic, manager of the Little Bay restaurant in South Croydon, told ELL: “We were expecting a very busy Christmas, but with all the things going on we’ve had a lot of cancellations.”
“It affects business, bars and everybody else. Lots of Christmas parties were booked, but unfortunately many of them have been canceled due to Covid.”
Cris Di Mattei, the general manager of the Basil & Grape restaurant in central Croydon, told ELL that many of the restaurant’s bookings had been cancelled.
“Of all bookings, we’re getting about 25 per cent of them cancelling, and another 10 per cent are no shows.”
“In general, we don’t have as many big bookings as 2019. I calculated that it’s 25 per cent less than we had that year.”
Finally Tom Finigan, of the Green Dragon pub in central Croydon, told ELL how offering a Christmas dinner has led to many patrons cancelling their reservations. “We offer three course, sit down Christmas dinners at our venue, so a lot of those have been cancelled.”
“In the last couple of days, we’ve definitely seen a downturn in walk-ins versus what we would normally be expecting, just because the numbers are going up so highly and people are worried about getting locked down again over Christmas.”
Many schools in the borough are closing for Christmas today, regardless of the current Covid situation.
As with every ELL borough, positive cases in Hackney of Coronavirus have increased over the last week. On of December 16 alone, 1,122 people confirmed a positive test result.
In the week starting December 10, 4,227people tested positive. This shows an increase of 198 per centcompared to the previous week. The weekly positive PCR test rate, ending on 10 December, was at 10.8 per cent.
Hackney joins Tower Hamlets with a significantly low vaccination rate. As of December 16, 62 per cent of Hackney and City of London residents aged 12 and over have received their first dose and 56 per cent had their second dose as of December 16.
Whilst there had been a 3 percent increase in uptake of the booster vaccination since December 11, Hackney was reported yesterday to have the second lowest booster uptake in the UK, with just 19.1 per cent of residents over 12 having received the booster shot.
Whilst schools are closing on their expected dates between 17 and 21 of December, some Hackney businesses have reported cancellations and closures.
One local business, The Three Compasses, issued a statement on Twitter about postponing events in their local pub.
The Mayor of Hackney, Philip Glanville, also expressed the importance of Hackney Councils initiative to support local businesses that are impacted by covid.
Hackney currently has 13 vaccination centres, and the council will be holding a pop-up vaccination event this Sunday, December 19, at Spring Hill Practice, 57 Stamford Hill, from 10 am-4 pm.