We are in the midst of the worst national emergency to face our country since the Second World War.
Some 422 people in the UK have already died as a result of coronavirus – a six-fold increase in just one week – and, tragically, by the time you read this article that number will have increased substantially again. These are not statistics – every death leaves family, friends and loved ones devastated and grieving.
Every single one of us has an urgent responsibility to do our bit in this fight to save lives. If we don’t, our NHS will be overwhelmed, as we have seen in Italy, with devastating consequences – and many more people will die as a result.
I can’t be clear enough: you must follow the rules at all times. You must stay at home. You can only leave your home to shop for basic necessities no more than once a day, to do one form of exercise a day while keeping at least two metres away from other people, for medical reasons and to care for the vulnerable, or if you need to travel to and from work – but only when it’s absolutely necessary and truly cannot be done from home.
These rules are not optional. This point cannot be overstated. They are instructions that will save lives, and they simply must be followed.
I want to be particularly clear about public transport. The only reason you should use public transport is if you absolutely have to go to work because you can’t do your job from home. We have only kept the network open to ensure critical workers, like our amazing NHS staff, can get to and from work in order to save lives. It is absolutely not open for business as usual. And those who are making non-essential journeys are putting themselves and others at grave risk.
On Monday, 88 per cent fewer people used the London Underground than on the same day last year. And, yesterday morning, 31 per cent fewer people used the tube than the day before. But this is still too high. I would implore all Londoners to please stop using public transport unless you absolutely must. Those who have no choice but to travel, please try to do so away from the busiest times.
Growing numbers of TfL staff are sick or self-isolating, so we cannot safely run more trains or buses. TfL is working with the Government to reduce crowding at key interchanges with the national rail network, and looking at all options to ensure the rules are followed by everyone.
All non-essential retail shops are now closed, as well as places of worship and other communal spaces, like libraries and playgrounds. Gatherings of more than two people in public are rightly banned – apart from with your own household.
Anyone who knows me knows my liberal instincts – and I have been pushing for these measures with a heavy heart. But this unprecedented threat requires extraordinary measures in order to save lives.
Many people are still worried about how they can follow the rules while continuing to pay their rent or mortgage and put food on the table. Nobody should be forced to make this choice.
I have supported the unprecedented economic measures the Government has taken to date, but we now urgently need additional action – particularly for those who are self-employed, like many construction workers, freelancers and people who work in the gig economy. We can’t wait any longer. It’s no coincidence that the areas of London still seeing the highest public transport use are those with the most people in insecure work.
The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have made assurances – both in public and in private – that they will do everything necessary to support jobs and families through this crisis. They must act immediately to make it as easy as possible for everyone to follow the rules.
Anyone who has worked on a construction site, as I have, knows that it’s simply impossible to socially isolate and to keep a safe two metre distance from other people in that environment. TfL has ordered all construction under its control – like Crossrail – to be brought to a safe halt. I urge the Government to direct all non-emergency construction to stop work.
I can only apologise if this is repetitive, but I must again end with a direct appeal to everyone reading this article. Please follow the rules. Avoid all social contact. Keep at least two metres distance between you and anyone else at all times. Work from home if you possibly can. Don’t use public transport unless you absolutely must. Keep an eye out for the elderly and vulnerable. Offer to buy them food and leave it on their doorstep. And don’t buy more food than you need.