Leicester 'struggled for weeks' to get data about positive tests, says city's mayor

29 June 2020, 23:36

Leicester Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said the city struggled to get testing data from the government
Leicester Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said the city struggled to get testing data from the government. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Leicester struggled "to get decent data from the government" about positive testing for several weeks prior to its local lockdown, the city's mayor has told LBC.

On Monday evening, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the city would go back into a local lockdown from Tuesday onwards following a surge in coronavirus cases.

Speaking just an hour after the announcement, Mayor of Leicester Sir Peter Soulsby highlighted the difficulties the city had faced in obtaining testing data from the government.

The former MP for Leicester South told LBC's Tom Swarbrick: "We've struggled over some weeks now to get decent data from the Government about the positive testing at street level.

"Councils up and down the land have suffered as the data hasn't been shared with them."

He added: "We have had data shared as of last Thursday, which is a long way in. So we've got it now, we're beginning to get our heads around what it means at a neighbourhood and street level and we hope that will tell us what is out there and where we need to intervene on the ground.

"Locking down a city doesn't necessarily deal with those parts of the city, those neighbourhoods in the city, or those communities in the city where they may be specific and very real places where the virus is being transmitted."

The mayor said it was unclear where the outbreak had originated from, despite hotspots being detected at two food production factories.

When asked for his immediate reaction, Sir Peter said: "I think the Government has gone further than we anticipated they would but I think that's the right decision because if you're going to do it, you might as well do it well.

"It's easier to move back from the firm position they've taken than to try and tighten up again at a later stage.

"I've expressed some scepticism about some of the figures but now they have taken their decision we are absolutely determined in Leicester to make this work."

Sir Peter said he found out earlier on Monday that Mr Hancock would be doing introducing some form of measures, but added he did not expect them to go so far.

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When asked whether he expected the measures to be so severe, he replied: "I think perhaps not, we got the impression that they were not going to unlock any further, but it's understandable they would choose to do it fairly drastically because if they didn't have success from more moderate measures it would be much more difficult to tighten up again.

"It's easier to unlock than it is to lock."

Despite previously being sceptical about what a second lockdown would achieve, the Leicester mayor said he believed the measures showed the government was determined to ensure the restrictions would be effective.

When asked how the city would police people travelling into, out of, and around Leicester, Sir Peter said it will be a challenge the police "will have to face."

"I very much hope that given this instruction, Leicester people will want to abide by it, but no doubt the police will want to be advising those, quite strongly, who do not appear to be following the rules."

He said introducing roadblocks will be unlikely but fines could be brought back in for people who do not take the lockdown seriously, but stressed this would be "very much a last resort."

The mayor added it is difficult to judge whether the lockdown was a late reaction or an overreaction but stressed the city will want to make a success of it.

"It's a pain, but not so much of a pain than it would be if the virus were to continue to spread and lead to as much sickness and death as it already has.

"So, in comparison, it's a pain we're going to have to put up with."

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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.

In his statement to the MPs in the Commons, he said: "Over the past fortnight, we have already taken action to protect people in Leicester.

"We deployed four mobile testing units and extra capacity at the regional test site.

"We provided thousands of home testing kits and extra public health capacity to boost the local team."