Leicester is UK's first 'local' lockdown area after surge in Covid-19 cases

29 June 2020, 21:05

Members of the military operate a walk-in mobile Covid-19 testing centre at Spinney Hill Park in Leicester
Members of the military operate a walk-in mobile Covid-19 testing centre at Spinney Hill Park in Leicester. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

Leicester has officially become the first area of Britain to enter a local lockdown following a surge in coronavirus cases.

There have been 2,987 positive cases in Leicester since the pandemic began, with 866 of those - 29 per cent - reported in the two weeks to 23 June.

The lockdown curbs, in place across the UK since 23 March, are set to be eased again in England on Saturday to allow pubs, cafes, restaurants, hair salons and museums to reopen.

But Health Secretary Matt Hancock said this evening that non-essential shops in Leicester will close from Tuesday, and schools will close to most pupils from Thursday as part of a series of fresh restrictions that have been imposed.

Speaking to MPs in the House of Commons on Monday evening, he said: "Given the growing outbreak in Leicester, we cannot recommend that the easing of the national lockdown, set to take place on the 4th of July, happens in Leicester.

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"Having taken clinical advice on the actions necessary, and discussing them with the local team in Leicester and Leicestershire, we've made some difficult but important decisions.

"We've decided that from tomorrow, non-essential retail will have to close and as children have been particularly impacted by this outbreak, schools will also need to close from Thursday, staying open for vulnerable children and children of critical workers as they did throughout.

"Unfortunately, the clinical advice is that the relaxation of shielding measures due on the 6th of July cannot now take place in Leicester.

"We recommend to people in Leicester to stay at home as much as you can, and we recommend against all but essential to, from and within Leicester.

"We'll monitor closely adherence to social distancing rules and we'll take further steps if that's what's necessary."

The mayor of Leicester Sir Peter Soulsby with a report from Public Health England
The mayor of Leicester Sir Peter Soulsby with a report from Public Health England. Picture: PA

Public Health England has drafted in four mobile testing centres to tackle the city’s fresh outbreak, which has forced five schools to close, and hotspots have been detected at two food production factories.

Sir Peter Soulsby, the Leicester city mayor, told LBC he was “angry and frustrated” that a meeting with local authority officials at 9am on Monday had been cancelled, and criticised a lack of clarity over cases in the city.

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

"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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Many of the fresh cases in Leicester are centred in North Evington, an area of dense terraced housing and small businesses, and are thought to be linked to the city’s high population of Asian multi-generational households.

Ivan Browne, Leicester's director of public health, said detailed data on local cases suggested they were "very much around the younger working-age population and predominately towards the east part of our city".

"I don't think at the moment we're seeing a single cause or single smoking gun on this...it's likely to be a combination of factors," he added.

Claudia Webbe, the MP for Leicester East, has already called for her constituency to be locked down and for her constituents to stay at home because of outbreaks.

Mr Hancock met with community leaders and officials in Leicester earlier this afternoon to discuss the city’s flare-up.

Downing Street insisted the powers existed to impose local lockdowns on areas to tackle outbreaks of Covid-19, including stopping admissions to hospitals and the Health Secretary also has powers under the Coronavirus Act.

But the Prime Minister’s spokesman played down the prospect of roadblocks being set up to seal off entire areas where there were localised coronavirus outbreaks.

He said any other potential local lockdowns could include telling people to self-isolate for 14 days, “closing down particular schools or particular groups of schools, potentially limiting admissions to health facilities or – if there were a particular business or premises linked to an outbreak – closing that down temporarily.”

Additional reporting by Nick Hardinges.