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Leaders in the London boroughs where up to one in 15 people are believed to be infected with coronavirus today called for the areas to be prioritised in the vaccine rollout.
East London is seeing some of the highest rates of Covid-19 in the country as dense housing, overcrowding and a large number of key worker residents provides the “perfect storm” for the new, more transmissible variant of the virus to spread.
Seven major vaccination hubs opened in England yesterday to help boost the immunisation drive, including one at the Excel in east London.
More than 2.2million people in the UK have now received their first dose of vaccine and the Department for Health said it plans for everyone over 50 to be offered the jab by the end of April.
Redbridge leader Jas Athwal said he would turn public buildings in his borough into vaccination hubs to help see the immunisation programme sped up.
“Let’s spend all our money on rolling out the vaccine,” he said. “As a council leader I’m saying all public places will be free for vaccinations if we have them.
“The battle isn’t going to be won by millions of people going into seven sites. They need to happen quickly. I know the rollout has to be fair but I think we need to prioritise borough’s like mine to get this virus under control. Teachers, health care workers, so many frontline staff live here.”
Barking & Dagenham council leader Darren Rodwell said he was running with a “severely reduced” workforce with up to 40 per cent of staff off with the virus in some departments and vaccinations had to be a priority.
“I would make sure that every teacher, care worker, front line worker was given this vaccine as quickly as possible,” he said.
“In areas like mine people really rely in their council, we are a forth emergency service keeping things going. We need the rollout to move faster. We have the ability to do it we just need access to more vaccine.”
The Government said it plans to open 50 special vaccination centres, which will help hospitals and GPs administer 2 million jabs a week, by the end of the month.
Barking and Dagenham was not able to start jabs until December 15 – a week after many other parts of London had received the vaccine.
Cllr Rodwell added: “I have got 20 per cent of my over 80s vaccinated and some support staff so far. It’s not quick enough. We were the last in London to get the vaccine. I don’t know why.”
The boroughs say they have not seen any mass rule breaking, which would account for the large number of cases, and infections were linked to housing conditions and resident employment.
Redbridge is the second most overcrowded borough in London.
Cllr Athwal said: “We have a lot of key worker residents who need to travel for work. We are a leafy borough but housing is overcrowded. It’s been the perfect storm.”
Barking and Dagenham took steps last year to stop illegal gathering, shutting down more parties than any other borough and threatening supermarkets which did not enforce mask wearing with legal action.
It is the cheapest place to live in the capital and has some of the highest levels of deprivation, with many residents working in lower income but vital jobs such as in shops, supermarkets or at delivery companies.
Cllr Rodwell said that as well as a high number of key workers the borough was now seeing the impact of “mixed Government messaging” before Christmas when cases were around 300 per 100,000 people.
“We don’t have a shopping centre so residents were travelling to Lakeside, Westfield and Romford when we were in Tier 2,” he said. “A lot would have been working in these places as well. Now we have as many as one in 15 infected.”