Leicester mayor frustrated at 'sledgehammer approach' of coronavirus lockdown

17 July 2020, 08:59

Lockdown alert signs in the centre of Leicester
Lockdown alert signs in the centre of Leicester. Picture: PA
Rachael Kennedy

By Rachael Kennedy

Leicester's mayor has said he is frustrated at a "sledgehammer approach" taken as the government announced a partial roll-back of coronavirus restrictions.

Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said he wasn't surprised by the announcement from Matt Hancock on Thursday, but that he was still "bitterly disappointed" by the outcome.

Having previously claimed that city officials had seen data to suggest just 10% of Leicester had recorded high virus transmission rates, he called for more "targeted action" rather than a "full city lockdown".

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Sir Peter Soulsby said he was "bitterly disappointed" by the health secretary&squot;s announcement
Sir Peter Soulsby said he was "bitterly disappointed" by the health secretary's announcement. Picture: PA

He said: "We have already showed the government what can be achieved when they work with local councils on the ground, by helping them to set up the biggest testing operation in the country which is now responsible for more than 10% of all testing in England.

"If the Government allowed us to focus on the 10% of the city where infection rates are higher, we are more than capable of doing what is needed."

Health Secretary announces partial relaxation of Leicester lockdown

It comes after the health secretary told MPs on Thursday that restrictions on schools and nurseries in the city would lift from 24 July, and councils would have the power to close any non-essential shops if needed.

Pubs and restaurants will remain closed, while non-essential travel restrictions remain in place.

Social gatherings of up to six people will be allowed - all of which will be reviewed in two weeks time.

The geographical boundary has also changed to encompass the city of Leicester and the borough of Oadby and Wigston.

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But Sir Soulsby said he believed the government's decision to impose city-wide restrictions was actually a "party political" one.

He said: "They have chosen to focus on the geographical area - effectively the area of the country that votes Labour - and that's just scandalous.

"If they were going to alter the boundary, they should have gone down to the area that they now know where the virus is.

"They have left two areas in there - one that has a Liberal Democrat council, the other that has a Labour mayor."

Virologist on why Leicester lockdown easing is a good thing

According to Mr Hancock, the seven-day infection rate in Leicester had dropped to 119 cases per 100,000 people from 135 cases, when the lockdown was announced at the end of June.

He said these rates were still "well above the national average and the average for surrounding areas."

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Responding to comments that the lockdown may not be necessary, he said: "I wish this were true, but sadly it remains vital for the health of everyone in Leicester and the rest of the country that these restrictions stay in place."

Leicester West MP Liz Kendall later tweeted that people would be "v disappointed" but that she would push for extra support for local business and public services as infection rates continue to fall.

Meanwhile, Leicester South MP Jonathan Ashworth added: "Our local health officials need more testing data & we must increase testing locally.

"And we need the public health advice why city stays locked down but neighbourhoods next to city can be released."

Claudia Webbe, the MP for Leicester East, also said the news would be "disappointing" to many locals.

She added: "However, high rates of positive testing particularly in parts of the city with high levels of deprivation, poverty and inequality remains.

"In defeating the virus we cannot return to business as usual."