The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has declared a major incident in the capital, saying hospitals will 'run out of beds within weeks' as Covid-19 cases soar.

Mr Khan said Covid-19 cases were “out of control” and implored Londoners to stay at home “unless it is absolutely necessary for you to leave” in order to save lives and protect the NHS.

He said that in some parts of the capital one in 20 people has coronavirus – compared to the England average of one in 50 – while there are 35 per cent more people in hospital with Covid-19 than at the peak of the pandemic in April.

He called for the closure of places of worship and for face masks to be worn routinely outside the home, including in crowded places and supermarket queues, in a bid to curb case numbers.

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Mr Khan has also 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.

Mr 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.

“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.

“You’ll be aware that across the country on average one of 50 people have this virus.

"In London, on average, it’s one out of 30.

"In parts of London it’s one out of 20.”

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He added that police officers would begin to drive ambulances “over the course of the next few days” to help handle the increase in 999 calls to London Ambulance Service, joining firefighters who had been helping already.

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

The declaration of a major incident means that events are beyond the scope of business-as-usual operations and require special arrangements to be implemented by one or more emergency responder agency.

Major incidents were declared following the Grenfell Tower fire, the terror attacks at Westminster Bridge and London Bridge and the Croydon tram crash.

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London’s regional director of Public Health England Professor Kevin Fenton said the situation now 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 one 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.”

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Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, who leads the Metropolitan Police response to the Covid pandemic, said the announcement of a major incident was a “stark reminder of the critical point we are at”.

He said 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”.

“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.

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"Every time the virus spreads it increases the risk of someone needlessly losing their life.”

Elsewhere, new analysis showed more than half of all major hospital trusts in England currently have more Covid-19 patients than at the peak of the first wave of the virus.

In two regions – eastern England and south-east England – more than three-quarters of trusts are above their first-wave peak.