Facing continuing surge of new Covid-19 cases, London mayor Sadiq Khan on Friday declared a ‘major incident’ – which is equivalent to declaring an emergency response – and urged people in the capital to stay at home and help hospitals from being overwhelmed.

A ‘major incident’ is defined as an event or situation with a range of serious consequences which requires special arrangements to be implemented by one or more emergency responder agency. The ambulance service is now taking nearly 8,000 emergency calls a day now.

A ‘major incident’ is beyond the scope of business-as-usual operations, and is likely to involve serious harm, damage, disruption or risk to human life or welfare, essential services, the environment or national security, according to regulations.

Khan took the decision as the chair of the London Resilience Forum following discussions with leaders from NHS London, local authorities, Public Health England and the emergency services in the capital.

It comes as the number of Covid-19 cases in London has exceeded 1,000 per 100,000, putting immense pressure on an already stretched NHS.

Between 30 December and 6 January, the number of patients in London hospitals grew by 27% (from 5,524 to 7,034) and the number on mechanical ventilation grew by 42% (from 640 to 908). Over the last three days alone, the NHS has announced 477 deaths in London hospitals following a positive test for Covid-19.

The impact is also being felt right across the emergency services with hundreds of firefighters from London Fire Brigade once again assisting London Ambulance Service by volunteering to drive ambulances as the ambulance services faces one of the busiest times in its history.

Khan said: “The situation in London is now critical with the spread of the virus out of control. The number of cases in London has increased rapidly with more than a third more patients being treated in our hospitals now compared to the peak of the pandemic last April”.

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.”

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