There is no escaping the grim reality that the coronavirus has made landfall in the UK and that London is the epicentre of the outbreak. Covid-19 has already claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people in our country, with around a third of those deaths in London.
But in the face of this spectre that now haunts our daily lives, we are not powerless to act – far from it. The evidence shows that if we all play our part, we can slow the spread of this virus, save lives and spare families the grief of losing loved ones.
That’s why, as a city and as a country, we are pulling out all the stops to ensure our brilliant NHS isn’t overwhelmed.
As the mayor of London, I’ve sought at every opportunity to echo and amplify the government’s central message: stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives. This is because it’s the right approach, and in times of crisis we have a duty to put party politics to one side and to unite in the national interest.
This virus does not discriminate in who it targets. It doesn’t care whether you are rich or poor, a northerner or a southerner, a Remainer or a Brexiteer, white, Asian or black – the simple fact is we are all at risk of catching and spreading coronavirus. It is therefore incumbent on each and every one of us to meet this challenge – not divided or alone, but united and together.
Something that should give us hope is the inspiring way Londoners are responding. The history books will record this period as one of the darkest in recent times, but as well as the terrible pain and suffering, I’m confident this crisis will also be remembered for the way our resilience, resourcefulness and resolve shone through.
Nowhere has this been more apparent than at the new NHS Nightingale hospital, which has been fully established from a standing start in a little over a week by our incredible military and a small army of civilian contractors, including builders, carpenters, electricians and plumbers. It’s a phenomenal achievement and one that not only underlines the astonishing human capacity for cooperation, but speaks to the energy and ingenuity of our amazing city and to the character and capabilities of this country.
It’s also been heartening to see the outpouring of support across our city for the courageous NHS staff and social care workers who are on the front lines of this battle. They are putting their lives on the line to save others – the very definition of heroism. Our NHS workers, including those who have come out of retirement, are a credit to London and to our nation – and we must acknowledge the huge debt we owe them, not least by demanding that they are urgently given the tests and personal protective equipment they need to do their jobs safely and effectively.
The profoundly moving Clap for Our Carers – organised by a Londoner, Annemarie Plas, to honour our brave doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers – is a fitting tribute and a powerful reminder that we are at our strongest when we stand together.
This extraordinary spirit and sense of unity has been on display over and over again in recent days, with Londoners dropping off food for vulnerable and older neighbours, mutual aid groups delivering meals to NHS employees, and complete strangers calling one another to stave off loneliness.
At times like these, it’s vital we draw attention to these stories, not only to boost morale and lift spirits, but because the selfless actions of everyday people are ultimately the rays of light that help to drive out the darkness.
So I’m calling on Londoners to take to social media and, under the banner of #LondonTogether, share positive news of community action and volunteering efforts in response to this crisis.
We want to profile and promote the fantastic work Londoners are doing to support each other, as well as give a platform to those who want to express their gratitude in creative and thoughtful ways to our NHS staff and other key workers – from delivery drivers, transport workers, refuse collectors and supermarket staff to police officers, firefighters and our emergency services.
Every week, we’ll be doing a round-up of the most innovative and inspiring examples from across our city and showcasing the great lengths Londoners are going to in order to stick together and stay connected while still following the rules and remaining physically apart. It is the paradox of a pandemic that the most effective way to come together is to keep your distance.
From the Blitz to the Great Smog of London, and from terrorist attacks to horrific fires, our capital has been through testing times before. And there’s no doubt we face some extremely difficult days ahead again. But I’m confident that with a concerted and collective effort, our city will once again rise to the challenge and that London will get through this, together.
Sadiq Khan is mayor of London
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