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 provide the “perfect storm” for the new, more transmissible variant of the virus to spread.
Barking and Dagenham remains the hardest hit with 1,569.2 cases per 100,000 people, followed by Newham on 1,406.3 and Redbridge at 1,381.9, according to the latest government data. Seven major vaccination hubs opened in England on Monday to help boost the immunisation drive, including one at the ExCel in east London.
But Redbridge leader Jas Athwal said he would turn public buildings in his borough into vaccination hubs to help speed up the immunisation programme.
“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 roll-out has to be fair but we need to prioritise boroughs like mine to get this virus under control. Teachers, healthcare workers, so many frontline staff live here.”
Barking and 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, frontline worker was given this vaccine as quickly as possible,” he said. “In areas like mine people really rely in their council, we are a fourth emergency service keeping things going.
“We need the roll-out to move faster. We have the ability to do it we just need access to more vaccine.”
More than 2.2 million elderly people and health workers have now received their first dose of the vaccine and the Department for Health said it plans for everyone over 50 to be offered the jab by the end of April.
The Government said it plans to open 50 special vaccination centres, which will help hospitals and GPs administer at least two 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.
Mr 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 mass rule-breaking, which would account for the large number of cases and infections being linked to housing conditions and resident employment.
Redbridge is the second most overcrowded borough in London. Mr 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 gatherings, shutting down more street and house parties than any other borough and threatening supermarkets which did not enforce mask wearing.