London Declares 'Major Incident' as COVID Reaches 'Crisis Point'

A major incident has been declared in London as the COVID crisis threatens to overwhelm hospitals in the U.K. capital city.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the situation is now critical amid rising numbers of patients being admitted with COVID-19. Khan made the emergency declaration to fast-track national help for the National Health Service (NHS), which he said was on the verge of running out of beds.

"I have declared a major incident in London because the threat this virus poses to our city is at crisis point," he tweeted. "One in 30 Londoners now has COVID-19. If we do not take immediate action now, our NHS could be overwhelmed and more people will die."

The mayor said the virus was "out of control" in the capital and ordered Londoners to stick to the rules and not mix indoors over the weekend. The number of patients in London hospitals grew by 27 percent from 5,524 to 7,034 between December 30 and January 6, the latest data shows.

The number of people on mechanical ventilators is also up by 42 percent, from 640 to 908, in the week up to 6 January.

Over the last three days alone the NHS has announced 477 deaths in London hospitals following a positive test for COVID-19. The London Ambulance Service said it is now taking up to 8,000 emergency calls a day, compared to 5,500 on a typical busy day.

Speaking at a press conference at Downing Street, head of NHS England Sir Simon Stevens admitted there was a "material risk" that London hospitals could be overwhelmed in the next 21 days.

Khan believes it could happen sooner. In a statement, he said: "Our heroic doctors, nurses and NHS staff are doing an amazing job, but with cases rising so rapidly, our hospitals are at risk of being overwhelmed.

"The stark reality is that we will run out of beds for patients in the next couple of weeks unless the spread of the virus slows down drastically."

Ambulances at the Royal London Hospital
Ambulances at the Royal London Hospital in London, England, as the number of COVID hospital patients rises Getty/Dan Kitwood

One of England's biggest hospital trusts, Bart's NHS Trust - which runs five hospitals throughout the City of London and East London - revealed it had 830 Covid-19 patients on January 5 compared with a first wave peak of 606.

The total number of people who have died after testing positive for the virus in London is now 9,123.

Meanwhile, official figures show the estimated 'R' number in the U.K. has risen to between 1.0-1.4, which is up from 1.1-1.3 previously.

The COVID R number - or the reproduction number - indicates how quickly COVID-19 is spreading.

It means that for every 10 people with COVID-19, they are passing it on to another 10-14 people, meaning the virus continues to grow.

Major incidents have previously been declared during London terrorist attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017. It allows for special arrangements to be implemented by one or more emergency responder agencies.