Is Leicester Facing a COVID-19 Local Lockdown? 

Peter Russell

June 29, 2020

Editor's note, 29th June 2020: England's Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced to the Commons this evening that non-essential shops will close again in Leicester from tomorrow, schools will close from Thursday, and the lockdown loosening measures due to come into force on Saturday will not apply to the Leicester area. There's an update to this article here.

Leicester's Mayor said it was too early to decide whether a local lockdown was needed in the city to curb a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Sir Peter Soulsby said the city council had only received detailed testing information on Thursday last week and that an analysis was still taking place.

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in England, Matt Hancock, revealed earlier this month that officials were working hard to contain outbreaks of COVID-19 in parts of Leicester, and in Kirklees in West Yorkshire.

Rise in Cases Over 2 Weeks

The latest figures from Public Health England (PHE) showed that 2987 COVID-19 cases had been confirmed in Leicester since the start of the epidemic. Of these, 866 cases were reported in the last 2 weeks.

The city council said it had asked the Government for more detailed information after its own public health team noticed a surge in the number of people testing positive in Leicester.

Detailed data such as ethnicity and the postcodes of those being tested had not previously been provided.

In the meantime the Government agreed to provide more testing facilities in Leicester.

The East Midlands council said it had also been working with PHE to reinforce current guidelines around hand hygiene and recommending that people still stay 2 metres apart from non-family members. Last week, Ivan Browne, the city's director of public health, said "Whilst the guidance may have changed elsewhere, we are going to do those actions until we start to see the numbers reducing in Leicester."

Mr Browne is due to hold talks with Government officials to discuss whether further measures are needed.

At the weekend, Home Secretary Priti Patel said it was "correct" that local lockdowns were being discussed to address flare ups in coronavirus cases.

A lockdown for parts of Leicester was backed by Claudia Webbe, Labour MP for Leicester East, who said on Twitter that residents faced added dangers from COVID-19 because of "high poverty and inequality".

Defining Local Lockdown Boundaries

Sir Peter said: "More testing and immediate access to the data is key to determining what intervention is needed. Whether that intervention is giving more advice or something more dramatic we don't yet know.

"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."

Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said defining a specific area would be a major hurdle in introducing a local lockdown. "Local authority boundaries can run down the middle of the street with one side in one local authority and the opposite another," he said.

"Urban sprawl has allowed towns and cities to expand resulting in these areas often joining other areas who identify differently and do not see themselves as part of the expanding town or city.

"Locking down at the regional level would be seen as unfair or worse as Leicester City has really very little to do with rural Lincolnshire.  People do not identify with their regional boundaries and many would not actually know where they are."
 

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