Leicester faces two-week lockdown 'extension' after rise in Covid-19 cases

29 June 2020, 05:52

The possibility of a local lockdown in Leicester has been raised
The possibility of a local lockdown in Leicester has been raised. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Pubs and restaurants in Leicester are set to stay closed for another two weeks after July 4 following a spike in local Covid-19 cases.

The city's Mayor told LBC today he was angry at the Government over an apparent lack of clarity on figures and the fact that planned talks between Number 10 and local authority officials were called off at the last minute.

Senior officials from the city were due to be present at a morning meeting to check data behind a local surge of Covid-19 cases in recent weeks.

But now the meeting, which Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby and the council's director of public health Ivan Browne were due to attend has been called off, leaving the Mayor "angry and frustrated". It later emerged that the meeting was due to take place this afternoon.

The possibility of a local lockdown being imposed comes as restrictions are set to ease elsewhere in the UK with shops with outdoor entrances and parks in Scotland able to reopen, while schools in Wales are set to welcome back more pupils.

Sir Peter told LBC: "I'm very angry and very frustrated this morning because the 9am meeting has been cancelled by the government officials who were due to meet with us.

"What I've had instead - arriving at four minutes past one in my inbox - is a copy of their actual recommendations for Leicester.

"It's been briefed very dramatically this weekend as 'local lockdown in Leicester'. Actually, what they are apparently considering according to this report is to extend for two weeks the present level of restrictions, which are lifted on 4th July in the rest of the country.

"But even that is not justified by any of the figures that they've let us have."

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Boris Johnson said the Government was "concerned about Leicester" where there has been a flare-up of coronavirus.

On a visit to a construction site in west London, the Prime Minister said: "We are concerned about Leicester, we are concerned about any local outbreak.

"I want to stress to people that we are not out of the woods yet. We are making these cautious, calibrated steps, we are opening as much of hospitality as we can on July 4, opening as much of the economy as we can - some things, alas, still remain closed until they can become Covid-secure.

"But to make all that possible we have to remain vigilant."

He said the local "whack-a-mole" strategy had worked in Weston-super-Mare and where there had been outbreaks around GP surgeries in London.

"That's the same approach that we will bring to bear in Leicester as well."

Data from Public Health England shows almost 3,000 coronavirus cases in Leicester have been confirmed since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Of these, 866 cases were reported in the last two weeks.

The rise in cases was linked to reports that Leicester could be made subject to Britain's first local lockdown, a potential move Home Secretary Priti Patel appeared to confirm over the weekend.

Asked if the Leicester reports were accurate, Ms Patel said: "Well, that is correct."

She added: "There will be support going into Leicester and in fact the Health Secretary was in touch with many of us over the weekend explaining some of the measures, the support on testing, resources that will go into the local authority as well."

Sir Peter later insisted more testing data was needed before deciding whether to implement a local lockdown in Leicester.

He argued the information was "key to determining what intervention is needed" to respond to the recent surge in Covid-19 cases.

"If it is decided that a local lockdown is needed the city council currently has no powers to implement this, and there would need to be extensive discussion around the area to be locked down, including whether this extends beyond the city boundaries," he added.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) acknowledged the city was an area of concern as it urged residents to be vigilant against the virus.

The focus on Leicester's future came as a leading scientist warned the country remains "on a knife-edge" ahead of lockdown measures being further relaxed next month.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said he was worried about a possible spike in infections ahead of the reopening of pubs, restaurants and hairdressers from July 4.

He warned of the possibility of a "very nasty rebound" of coronavirus in the winter if the UK does not use the next few months "sensibly".

Asked if that meant more people losing their lives, he said: "It could do."

DHSC said 43,550 people had died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Saturday, up by 36 from the day before.

The Government figures do not include all deaths involving Covid-19 across the UK, which are thought to have passed 54,000.

Meanwhile, police in London spent the weekend dispersing hundreds of people from unlicensed music events.

Scotland Yard said such gatherings were "illegal, dangerous and often linked to anti-social behaviour and violence".

Officers were sent to break up gatherings in the areas of Clapham Common, Tooting Bec Common, Burgess Park and Wembley, largely without confrontation.

Ms Patel said the rise in mass gatherings and protests was "unacceptable" and warned it risked a second deadly spike of coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the Home Secretary said the UK's borders could be reopened in the coming days now international and domestic coronavirus transmission rates were continuing to fall.

Ministers are expected to confirm which countries will no longer have a 14 day quarantine requirement imposed on travellers returning from them to the UK.

A traffic light system will see the blanket quarantine rule lifted, with nations instead sorted into green, amber and red categories according to their prevalence of coronavirus.

The list of quarantine-free countries is due to be published on Wednesday, with restrictions lifted as soon as July 6.