London Underground carriages were crowded for a second consecutive day early on Wednesday, despite Boris Johnson’s decision to put the UK on lockdown, as a row erupted between the government and city mayor Sadiq Khan over service levels.

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick insisted more Tube trains should be running to prevent NHS workers travelling “cheek by jowl” with others during the coronavirus outbreak.

“We think that can be resolved by laying on more trains and we are urging the mayor of London to do so,” the minister told BBC Breakfast.

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It follows health secretary Matt Hancock’s claim there is “no good reason” why timetables have been cut. However, Mr Khan’s spokesman insisted ministers were told “countless times” that Tube frequencies reflect high levels of staff sickness and self-isolation.

Shortly before 7am on Wednesday, a senior nurse named Danny posted on Twitter: “Another busy tube. Can we not stagger people’s start times so we aren’t all squashed on the same tube! This is unsafe and not fair!”

Barry Trimble, who said his work involves ensuring cancer patients receive chemotherapy, posted an image of a busy Victoria line carriage shortly after 7am on Wednesday.

“The Tube is packed, with social distancing impossible. We need more people to stay at home and more trains running in morning and evening peak.”

The Tube is currently operating at around 50 per cent of its normal capacity during peak times. Transport for London (TfL) has pledged to “continue to run as much of a Tube service as we possibly can”.

On Tuesday Mr Hancock said: “Transport for London should have the Tube running in full so that people travelling on the Tube are spaced out and can be further apart – obeying the two-metre rule wherever possible.

“And there is no good reason in the information that I’ve seen that the current levels of Tube provision should be as low as they are. We should have more Tube trains running.”

Mr Khan said: “Growing numbers of TfL staff are off sick or self-isolating: we cannot run more services.”

Photo of commuters on board a busy train at Leytonstone central station in London as trains remained packed despite a nationwide lockdown, 23 March 2020.

His office said nearly a third of staff are absent, which means “there aren’t enough drivers and control staff” to run a full service.

The mayor also accused ministers of not taking “difficult decisions” to ban non-essential construction work and provide “proper financial support” so that freelancers, the self-employed and those on zero-hours contracts stay at home rather than use public transport.

Five hundred British Transport Police officers patrolled Britain’s mainline rail network on Tuesday to remind passengers that only essential travel is permitted after the UK was placed under lockdown.

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