London mayor Sadiq Khan has declared a major incident as the spread of coronavirus threatens to "overwhelm" the capital's hospitals.

City Hall said Covid-19 cases in London had exceeded 1,000 per 100,000, and there are 35 per cent more people in hospital with the virus than in the peak of the pandemic in April.

A major incident means the "severity of the consequences" associated with it are "likely to constrain or complicate the ability of responders to resource and manage the incident".

Mr Khan has written to prime minister Boris Johnson asking for more financial support for Londoners who need to self-isolate and are unable to work, and for daily vaccination data.

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Mr Khan 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.

"We are declaring a major incident because the threat this virus poses to our city is at crisis point. If we do not take immediate action now, our NHS could be overwhelmed and more people will die.

"Londoners continue to make huge sacrifices and I am today imploring them to please stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary for you to leave. Stay at home to protect yourself, your family, friends and other Londoners and to protect our NHS."

City Hall said the London Ambulance Service is now taking up to 8,000 emergency calls a day, compared with 5,500 on a typical busy day.

Firefighters have been helping to drive ambulances and have responded to 100,000 incidents since they volunteered to help in April.

The Nightingale hospital at the ExCeL in Custom House will open in the next few days to take patients without Covid, thereby freeing up beds in hospitals for those with the virus.

The situation has been escalating over recent days across east London. The Recorder reported (on January 7) that people with Covid-19 are being treated in the back of ambulances because there is so little space at Goodmayes' King George Hospital.

The following graphic shows the trajectory of coronavirus cases across Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Newham, Redbridge and Tower Hamlets.

A number of other bodies have released statements in response to this news.

Professor Kevin Fenton, London regional director of Public Health England, said: “This is the biggest threat our city has faced in this pandemic to date.

“The emergence of the new variant means we are setting record case rates at almost double the national average, with at least 1 in 30 people now thought to be carrying the virus.

“Our NHS services are under immense pressure and currently another 800 people are being admitted to our hospitals every day. We know this will sadly lead to large numbers of deaths so strong and immediate action is needed.

“In order to ease the burden on our hospitals, we must first stop the spread. That means we have to stay at home. Cut your contacts, reduce your movements, do as little as possible.

“A lot has been asked of Londoners over the past 12 months but your decisions and actions right now have never been more important.”

Met Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist said: “The announcement that London has declared a major incident in the battle against Coronavirus is a stark reminder of the critical point we are at.

"Our health service colleagues are fighting this virus every day on the frontline, but the case rate continues to increase and the number of people affected in London is alarming. Now more than ever is the moment for people to stick to the rules, and stay at home.

“There can be no doubt that right now we find ourselves at a serious and dangerous crossroads for London; everyone must look at this news and understand that our health service is nearing breaking point.

"I know Londoners will be shocked that officers are still dealing with a small selfish minority who think the rules don’t apply to them by holding house parties, large warehouse raves or other gatherings. These are creating breeding grounds for the much more transmissible variant.

“These rule breakers cannot continue to feign ignorance of the risk that this virus poses or listen to the false information and lies that some promote downplaying the dangers. Every time the virus spreads it increases the risk of someone needlessly losing their life."

Unite's national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe added: “We are in a race against time to get the vaccination programme fully up to speed – and we urge all members of the public to abide strictly by the social distancing rules.

“We strongly echo the call to stay at home from the mayor and NHS leaders. The biggest thing people can do to help the NHS is ‘stay at home’, with the infection rate now running at 1 in 30 people in the capital.

“Every individual’s actions and personal responsibility can contribute to saving lives – we can’t emphasise this enough.

“At present, that is the best way to curb infection rates and relieve the pressure on the capital’s hospitals’ capacity and beds – and give support to our dedicated NHS staff. Our members in the NHS in London report they are exhausted by the flood of Covid-19 patients."

The leader of Redbridge Council Cllr Jas Athwal said: "The situation we are facing in London today is dire. I call on the government to hear and respond to the Mayor’s call for more money, and on our residents to follow the guidance.

"The vast majority of local people already do follow the rules, but there are a stubborn, selfish few who are making life even more difficult for the rest of us. Unless we truly understand that we are all in this together, we face more deaths, more tragedy, and an even longer battle for economic recovery.

"We all must please play our part to stop the spread and support the heroes and heroines of our NHS and emergency services as they put their lives on the line to support us."

Ilford North MP Wes Streeting said: “The message from the Mayor of London and the NHS could not be more stark and I am deeply worried. Infection rates in Redbridge are among the highest in London and the NHS is at risk of being overwhelmed.

"It is vital that people stay at home this weekend and do not mix with other people. Only leave home for essential groceries or to go to work if you are a key worker.”

Bethnal Green and Bow MP Rushanara Ali said: "Our NHS is at breaking point. During this time of crisis, we need to take immediate action to protect lives and save the NHS. We need to support our brilliant and dedicated NHS staff and key workers, by following the government restrictions and staying at home where possible.

"The government urgently needs to get a grip of the test and trace system and scale up the vaccination programme, to protect lives."

Hornchurch and Upminster MP Julia Lopez said: "As the prime minister and Sir Simon Stevens made clear at yesterday's news conference, the pressure on the NHS in London is now severe. I have been in regular contact with our health teams to understand the local picture.

"The challenge to Queen's is substantial but work is being done at every level to increase capacity, including stepping up the Excel Nightingale both for patient care and mass vaccination. I am pleased to say that cancer screenings and oncology services are continuing with private sector support, and we are making good progress on vaccine rollout now that Astra Zeneca is on stream.

"But there is no doubt that the next few weeks will be very difficult, and I want to thank NHS teams for their superhuman efforts right now, and the whole community for the collective sacrifices being made as we move through this lockdown period."

West Ham MP Lyn Brown said: "Right now, Covid is devastating our communities, and I am desperately worried about the further lives that will be lost. This crisis has now become an emergency.

"I believe this could have been avoided if restrictions had been put in place earlier and if those rules, which apply to us all, were respected by all. The terrible pressure on our NHS is creating so much more stress, anxiety and risk for the nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, porters, and so many more who have no choice but to work on the frontlines to save lives.

"I know it is not enough, but I want to say thank you to them with all my heart. I live in the community, and so I know that the rules are being breached daily by those who are simply being selfish. This must stop.

"We need to think about the impact of our actions on our neighbours and our families, and stay home whenever possible to protect them. Nothing else matters at the moment. We can celebrate together and see others when this is over."

Ilford South MP Sam Tarry said: "This week alone, at King George hospital, there have been patients being treated in ambulances outside the hospital because they are already at capacity.

"We have briefings with all the other local MPs covering Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham and Havering, that's our NHS trust area, and they are freely admitting that they are heading into a very difficult situation very rapidly.

“What is expected is that the worst peak of this crisis hasn't actually hit us yet - it's going to be in the next two weeks, so I'm extremely concerned about how bad the situation is. The other issue is that because this virus is so much more infectious than the first strain of it, the volume of staff off is far higher, and there's nowhere to recruit new staff. Everyone who can be working is working.

“It hasn't happened yet, but what I'm worried could happen in the next few weeks, is that people who are older, they will say sorry, we have to prioritise younger people over you because we haven't got the capacity to help."

East Ham MP Stephen Timms said: “The Mayor’s decision to declare a major incident shows how serious the situation is here in London. I would ask Newham residents to stay at home and not go out except for one of the specified activities.

“I have made the point before to Ministers that local residents would find it easier to stay at home if the government provided more financial support who need to self-isolate and are unable to work. They have – so far – refused. I hope they will look again at this.”

Keith Prince, Conservative London Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge, commented: “Today’s news underlines the importance of following the national lockdown rules and staying at home to save lives. The NHS is there to protect us but unless we all do our bit to stop the spread of the virus, our hospitals could be overwhelmed and unable to help everyone who needs it.

“I hope the minority who have flouted the rules will now recognise the severity of the situation and help stop the spread. The new coronavirus variant is much easier to catch and pass on and one in three people do not have symptoms. So even if people feel well, they must be vigilant and follow the rules to save lives.”