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London firefighters to deliver food and drive ambulances

London firefighters
Met Police

London's firefighters have agreed to deliver food and medicine, drive ambulances and retrieve bodies during the Covid-19 pandemic, as former ambulance staff and police officers were urged to come back to the front line.

Under a new crisis agreement, firefighters will be able to deliver essential items such as food to vulnerable people, drive ambulances and assist ambulance staff, and collect bodies in the event of mass casualties.

The national plan, agreed by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), fire chiefs and employers, will see firefighters maintain core services such as attending fires and road traffic accidents, but also providing extra services as coronavirus continues to spread.

It will run for two months but can be extended if necessary and could affect the London Fire Brigade's 5,000 firefighters and emergency control staff.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, said: "We face a public health crisis unparalleled in our lifetimes.

"Firefighters are fantastic at teamwork, are experienced in driving emergency vehicles and, as a service rooted in the community, may be best placed to deliver essential items to the most vulnerable.

"Many fear the loss of life in this outbreak could be overwhelming - and firefighters, who often handle terrible situations and incidents, are ready to step in to assist with body retrieval."

Mr Wrack told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it would be "quite a serious challenge" for firefighters to take on more work.

London university provides corona testing equipment

The University of Westminster’s School of Life Sciences has transferred some of its equipment to the Government’s new COVID-19 testing unit in Milton Keynes.

Head of the School of Life Sciences, Professor Brendon Noble, said: "Testing individuals is absolutely crucial to our ability to slow the spread.

"When we don’t know if we have the virus, we don’t know how to change our behaviour, and this is so important.

"Healthcare and key workers are currently being sent home if they show any symptoms at all but could possibly continue working if they tested negative.”

Dr Mohammed Gulrez Zariwala, Assistant Head of the School of Life Sciences, added: "The School plans to expand its contribution to the fight through donations of critical protective equipment to hospitals and a volunteering scheme for some of our expert colleagues.

We are pleased to have been contacted by the Prime Minister‘s Office with this request."

Restaurant praised for donating food to charity

An Indian restaurant in Hounslow, west London, has been praised for donating pre-packed food to humanitarian charity Khalsa Aid International.

Langar Aid which supports the homeless, vulnerable and those struggling with poverty in the UK, said on Twitter that it distributed the food to hostels.

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NHS staff urged to move to conference centre hospital

ExCeL site
PA Media

Health bosses are urging staff to move quickly to work at the new 4,000-bed field hospital being set to manage a surge in seriously ill coronavirus patients, it has been reported.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced earlier this week that the ExCeL site in London will become a temporary hospital equipped with two wards of 2,000 beds to cope with any patient surge in the capital.

The Health Service Journal (HSJ) reported on Wednesday that leaders were "urgently" identifying staff who could be redeployed quickly at the new Nightingale Hospital.

An email from a London trust chief executive to staff, seen by the HSJ, said a response was needed within hours and accommodation could be provided if necessary.

It added: "Along with other NHS trusts, we have been asked to identify a range of our people to help staff the new Nightingale Hospital at the ExCeL centre in east London.

"This is a key element of the NHS national response to coronavirus and will provide the first major wave of 'surge' capacity.

"The urgency in identifying staff is to allow time for training to take place before opening to patients.

"We have asked divisional clinical leads to identify and approach staff who may be able to be redeployed quickly to the ExCeL and, in the interests of time, we are also asking staff directly to come forward to be considered for redeployment.

"Accommodation will be provided if required."

The email said the new hospital should take some pressure off London hospitals by absorbing demand, giving the trusts more time to increase their own capacity.

The required staff range from consultants, GPs, critical care nurses and pharmacists to non-clinical staff, such as porters and administrators, it added.

'I'm stuck in isolation with my homophobic parents'

Ben Hunte

LGBTQ Correspondent

Graphic
BBC

With the UK on coronavirus lockdown, some young people have been forced to isolate alongside parents who don't accept their sexuality.

Nicky, 19, is a marketing assistant from London. In January, she was "outed" as gay by a family friend.

Her mum and her mum's partner immediately asked her to leave their home, saying they did not support her "lifestyle decision". They only allowed her back after she experienced mental health problems.

"Living with my homophobic family is like having flatmates you don't like. You don't talk to them, you just get on with your life."

Read her full account

Coronavirus: Gatwick Express to be suspended

Gatwick Express train at Gatwick Airport train station
Getty Images

The Gatwick Express service will be temporarily suspended until further notice from Monday, the company has announced.

The step comes in response to a significant fall in passenger numbers at the airport and to help keep other trains running, it added.

Southern and Thameslink trains will continue to serve Gatwick Airport.

Steve White, chief operating officer at Govia Thameslink Railway which operates Gatwick Express, said: "In this national emergency, we and the rest of the rail industry are doing everything we can to keep essential services running for key workers on whom we all depend.

"These changes will release our staff to concentrate their efforts on keeping these essential services running."

To check your journey next week customers are asked to visit National Rail Enquiries online where the revised timetables will be in place from the weekend.

Coronavirus: Londoners anger over public transport woes

Londoners unhappy at the lack of space on the capital's public transport network have sent a barrage of messages to Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Dozens of passengers took to Twitter to express their frustration at their inability to follow Government guidance to keep two metres away from others to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Patricia Pereira posted: "Jubilee line service packed, Waterloo station escalators out of use forcing people to use the ones that are working and be extremely near."Three TfL staff by gate line talking, no one manage the crowd (or) helping on social distancing!"

She added: "I am a key worker, I don't want to get ill!"

A passenger with the Twitter username debzlips wrote a message to the mayor which read: "Why have you reduced the tube service?"

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Denise Bennett, from Newcastle, wrote: "Message from daughter, going to work as a nurse in London - 'tube station is rammed'."

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On Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs it should be possible to "run a better Tube system".

Some passengers said their Tube journeys were quieter than normal on Thursday.

Twitter user mortimusprime—x posted two pictures showing carriages with empty seats, and wrote: "Thank you to all those staying at home."

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The Tube is operating at about 50% of its normal capacity during peak times.

Mr Khan tweeted that "we cannot run more services" as a third of TfL staff are off sick or self-isolating."

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He said demand for early-morning Tube services on Thursday was 13% lower than on Wednesday.

Figures from TfL show that passenger numbers on Wednesday morning were down 92% compared with the same day last year.

Met 'won't hesitate' to enforce coronavirus rules

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The commissioner of the Met Police has said the force "won’t hesitate" in enforcing new measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus if required.

Officers have been patrolling London's streets advising people and businesses about the new rules since they were unveiled by Boris Johnson on Monday.

Cressida Dick said they had found "the vast majority of people are very positive and want to comply with the new guidance" but "we won’t hesitate [enforcing the rules] if there are people who are deliberately breaching the law".

She added that while the outbreak was "a huge challenge" for Scotland Yard, "we have robust plans in place for this extraordinary situation".

“We’ve shown time and again, our ability to adapt, to rise to a challenge, to flex and surge our resources and out staff and even in the darkest of time to be able to keep people safe and give a good quality police service," she said.

Commissioner Cressida Dick and two other officers
Met Police

Council leader ousted

Local Democracy Reporting Service

The leader of Kingston Council was ousted by the borough’s Liberal Democrat group amid the coronavirus crisis.

Councillor Liz Green, who has been leader of the Lib Dem group for seven years, will now be replaced by Councillor Caroline Kerr, who will also become the new council leader.

In a statement posted on her Twitter page Cllr Green thanked council staff and the borough’s chief executive, Ian Thomas.

However, she noted that it was an unusual time for a change in leader, considering the mass changes councils are going through with the coronavirus crisis.

She said: “Over the last few weeks my efforts have been focused on the council’s response to this unprecedented health crisis. Whilst changing council leader at this time may seem more naval gazing than stepping up for the community, I remain committed to our residents and helping them through this crisis.

"She will remain a councillor for St Mark’s ward and wished Cllr Kerr the best “during this difficult time for our communities.”

Cllr Kerr, a former news correspondent for ITN, thanked Liz for her “excellent leadership” and the way she has led the borough through the COVID-19 pandemic up until this point.

She said: “My sole focus for the next few months will be to get the borough through this unprecedented time and to communicate with residents about the best ways they can help each other while sticking to the rules which are designed to keep us all safe.

“I recognise how difficult the current lockdown is for everyone in the borough but in Kingston, as in the rest of the country, staying home means saving lives.”

More Tube passengers should stay home - mayor

The Mayor of London has just issued this statement thanking Tube and bus staff for their work in helping commuters get around the capital safely amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But he is also calling on the government to act to stop non-safety construction employees from continuing to work to help get more passenger numbers down.

Sadiq Khan
BBC

I’d like to thank all Londoners who have followed the rules today and stayed at home. TfL’s early-morning data suggests that Tube travel is down by an additional third compared to yesterday and bus travel down by an additional 20%. Tube ridership was already 88% down yesterday compared to the same day last year and bus ridership 76% down. However, we still need more Londoners to do the right thing and stay at home. Nearly a third of TfL’s staff are now off sick or self-isolating – including train drivers and crucial control centre staff. Many of them have years of safety-critical training in order to run specific lines – so it is simply not possible to replace them with others. TfL will do everything possible to continue safely running a basic service for key workers including our amazing NHS staff, but if the number of TfL staff off sick or self-isolating continues to rise – as we sadly expect it will – we will have no choice but to reduce services further... We have worked with national rail services to ensure some trains do not stop at the busiest London Underground interchanges at peak times. The reduction in services by national rail services on Monday meant that there was increased overcrowding for short periods of times as passengers arrived on fewer trains. TfL have also emailed 4.5 million passengers telling them not to use public transport unless absolutely necessary... It remains the case that too many of the people using TfL services at the busiest times work in construction. I repeat my call on the Government to ban non-safety construction work during this period, as TfL did yesterday. We also urgently need more financial support for the self-employed, freelancers and those in insecure work. In the absence of Government action, we are working with the Construction Leadership Council to try and spread the start times of work on the biggest sites in London. Finally, I would like to give my immense personal gratitude to every single member of TfL staff. You are doing our country a great service at this time of national emergency by ensuring our NHS staff and other key workers are able to get to work and save lives. Thank you.

Sadiq KhanLondon Mayor
A construction worker has sent the BBC a video of workers failing to distance themselves.
A construction worker sends the BBC a video of workers failing to distance themselves at a building site.
Coronavirus: 'We will make sure we have the capacity'
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announces plans to open a temporary hospital in London for 4000 patients.

Coronavirus: Which businesses must close?

Following the prime ministers announcement last night of the closure of a range of business and services in a big to halt the spread of the coronavirus, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has issued more detail.

The latest guidance goes into great detail the types of businesses, premises and organisations to be affected.

You can read the guidance here.

MP warns of price hike exploitation

Local Democracy Reporting Service

Hand and hand sanitiser
AFP

A London MP has warned of retailers exploiting the current crisis by hiking the prices of goods such as hand sanitiser and loo roll and making a "quick profit".

MP for Hendon Matthew Offord wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson after hearing that some retailers were allegedly using the epidemic to increase the prices of essential items.

Dr Offord told the Prime Minister he had been contacted by several constituents who had raised concerns over the price hikes.

The MP said he contacted one retailer about the claims and was told some products were in short supply. The retailer added that wholesalers had increased their prices, so retailers had raised their prices in order to sell at a profit.

Dr Offord’s letter also warns price reductions for multiple purchases could encourage bulk buying and worsen the supply problems.

The MP adds: “Many people are being prevented from taking the very precautions the Government is encouraging as they cannot either buy or afford the items required.

“I therefore should be grateful to know what action the Government is taking to ensure that suppliers and retailers are not permitted to exploit the current crisis to make a ‘quick profit’, and are not encouraging stockpiling of essential items by offering discounts.”

On Friday, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched a special taskforce in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The team has been tasked with spotting harmful sales and pricing practices as they emerge. It will warn firms suspected of exploiting the exceptional circumstances – and people’s vulnerability – through unjustifiable prices or misleading claims.

The CMA has already contacted traders and platforms over the excessive pricing of hand sanitiser.

The taskforce will be able to take enforcement action if there is evidence firms have breached competition or consumer protection law and they fail to respond to warnings.

CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said: “This is obviously a time when we all have to behave responsibly to protect our fellow citizens, and particularly those who are most vulnerable.

“We urge retailers to behave responsibly in the exceptional circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“But if they do not, our taskforce is monitoring market developments to enable us to intervene as quickly as possible. We have a range of options at our disposal, from warnings to enforcement action to seeking emergency powers.

“We hope that such action will not be necessary, but we will do whatever is required to stop a small minority of businesses that may seek to exploit the present situation.”

Sutton leisure facilities close amid pandemic

Local Democracy Reporting Service

Leisure facilities in Sutton are closing from today.

Recreation centres now shut in the south-west London borough include the Westcroft, Cheam and David Weir Leisure Centres and The Phoenix Centre.

Heritage homes including Honeywood, Whitehall and Little Holland House are also closed for the foreseeable future.

In a statement, Sutton Council said: “We understand that physical activity is important to both physical and mental health.

“We encourage residents to make use of Sutton’s parks and green spaces during this period.

"It’s important that if you do, you follow the government advice on social distancing which says that you can go for a walk outdoors if you stay more than two metres from others.”

Bin collection services have also been affected by the outbreak.

A council spokesperson said: “For the first time, our waste collection services in Sutton have been affected by staff absence, due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

"We have been planning with Veolia for this inevitability.”

London ambulance service receives record calls

The London Ambulance Service says the last three days have been the busiest in the service's history.

London Ambulance
Getty Images

Chief Executive Garret Emmerson said it had received more than 8,000 calls a day, compared to an average 5,000.

Mr Emmerson thanked staff for working so hard and urged Londoners not to call 999 unless they had life-threatening concerns.

Grenfell Week Two: The architects felt misled

Grenfell cladding was "horse meat" masquerading as "beef lasagne"
Giving evidence for a second week, architect Neil Crawford said he felt misled about the materials used on Grenfell Tower.