As the rest of the country looks forward to a relaxation of coronavirus restrictions on July 4th, it was confirmed on the evening on June 29th that due to a spike in infections, the city of Leicester has to impose the first ‘local lockdown’.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock first mentioned an “outbreak” in Leicester on 18th June, and now it pubs and restaurants in Leicester will have to stay closed for an additional two weeks according, schools which have started to re-open will have to shut, and non-essential retail outlets which had opened will have to close again.
Leicester Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby initially denied that the measures would amount to a local lockdown after Home Secretary Priti Patel said on Sunday that Leicester may have to get ready for a local lockdown as a spike in coronavirus cases was reported – in the two weeks to June 23rd, there were 866 positive cases in Leicester, representing 29 percent of the 2,987 who have tested positive in the area since the start of the pandemic.
On July 4th, pubs, restaurants and hairdressers around the country are expected to re-open with social distancing measures in place. But in Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby said a government message has suggested the local lockdown should continue with “the present level of restriction for a further two weeks beyond 4 July”.
Although Sir Peter Soulsby described this as “Very different from the dramatic ‘lockdown in Leicester’ that was being briefed over the weekend,” he complained that the message “does not provide us with the information we need if we are to remain restricted for two weeks longer than the rest of the country”, and said that a planned meeting to discuss the local lockdown had been cancelled.
Sir Peter said: “I have not been shown anything that demonstrates Leicester should be treated any differently to anywhere else.
“We are seeing more positive tests as more people are being rested in the community but our admissions to hospitals remain low – some six to ten a day – and far below the levels we were seeing at the peak.
“And the death rate in the city is low too – lower I am told than might normally be expected at this time of year.”
Interviewed on BBC News, Sir Peter said “What the government have completely failed to explain to us is why they believe that something different is happening in Leicester to what is happening in the rest of England… and neither have they demonstrated why extending the present restrictions for another two weeks would make a blind bit of difference to anything.
“If it was about saving lives I would be the first to say they should do that in the city of Leicester… but if they can lift the restrictions in the rest of England there’s nothing to suggest they can’t lift them in Leicester a well.”
Asked whether a local lockdown in Leicester could resolve the situation, public health expert Dr Andrew Lee from the University of Sheffield said: “At the end of the day this all hinges on we as a population all chipping in and working together – it’s not just lockdown, we need to make sure at an individual level we are watching our distance, we are washing our hands and we are wearing masks to reduce the risk of transmission in all settings, and not just rely on lockdown itself.”
Professor Jeremy Farrar of the Wellcome Trust, a member of the SAGE advisory committee, told the BBC that he expected that a local lockdown may be necessary if there are hot-spots of infection, and that he expected to see a ‘second wave’ of coronavirus in the winter.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said that she had held discussions with Health Secretary Matt Hancock about a local lockdown, and that extra support would be going into the Leicester area. She added: “With local flare-ups, it is right we have a local solution”, and on Monday 29th, Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that the local lockdown would be imposed in Leicester, with the situation to be reviewed in two weeks.
According to the Department of Health, testing in Leicester has been stepped up over the last ten days and four mobile testing sites and thousands of home testing kits have been sent to Leicester.
Asked about the possibility of a local lockdown in Leicester, the city’s Director of Public Health, Ivan Browne, said that he had received more data about local cases, and told BBC Radio 4: “Interestingly it’s 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, so we really need to try to dig down and find out what is going on and it’s likely to be a combination of factors.
“Information has been challenging all the way through this.”
But Claudia Webbe, MP for Leicester East, had called for a local lockdown, as she said the spike in infections was due to a “perfect storm” of poverty, positive testing and higher ethnic diversity. About 28 percent of the population of Leicester is of Indian heritage, with a further 21 percent from black or Asian backgrounds.
Leicester GP Dr Mayur Lakhani said that many of Leicester’s population were vulnerable due to their ethnicity, poverty or diabetes,which is widespread in Leicester, and “We know that patients like that get more infection, they get severe infection, and they have complications.”
It seems likely that the provision of more mobile testing facilities resulted in even more reported cases, leading to the decision to impose a local lockdown on Leicester. Reports of infections are reportedly running at three times the rate of other comparably sized cities.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock made the statement that the local lockdown would be re-imposed on Leicester at 9pm on Monday 29th. So as the rest of the country looks forward to a relaxation of coronavirus restrictions on July 4th, the spike in infections means that the people and businesses of Leicester will have to prepare for the first ‘local lockdown’.