Leicester Forced to Wait for Easing of COVID-19 Restrictions

Peter Russell

June 30, 2020

New legislation will be introduced to enforce a local lockdown in Leicester to tackle a spike in COVID-19 cases, the Government announced.

People in Leicester and some outlying areas will be asked to continue following stricter rules for at least another 2 weeks.

Matt Hancock, the Health and Social Care Secretary told the Commons last night that the 7-day infection rate in Leicester was 135 cases per 100,000 people, which was "three times higher than the next highest city".

Admissions to hospital in Leicester were between 6 and 10 per day rather than around 1 a day at other trusts, he told MPs.

Leicester City Council said it had had 3216 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the start of the epidemic. Of those, 944 cases were reported in the last 2 weeks, mainly in the east of the city.

The New Restrictions

Bars, restaurants, and hairdressers in Leicester will not open on Saturday 4th July as planned, and non-essential shops that were allowed to open on 15th June have been told to close from today.

Schools will be asked to close for most pupils from Thursday 2nd July and will not reopen for the rest of the summer term. Vulnerable children and those of key workers will continue to be admitted.

The relaxation of shielding measures that were due on the 6th July would not now take place, it was confirmed.

The measures would apply beyond the city of Leicester itself to nearby communities, including Oadby, Birstall, and Glenfield.

The local lockdown measures would be kept under review.

Map showing area affected by local lockdown. Credit: Leicestershire County Council

'Stricter Than We Anticipated': Leicester City Mayor

The decisions were taken following a meeting between Mr Hancock, Leicester's Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, and other officials, yesterday afternoon.

Afterwards, Sir Peter said: "These measures are stricter than we anticipated but we understand the need for firm action."

In his statement, Mr Hancock acknowledged that it was a worrying time for people. He said:  "I want everyone in Leicester to know that we have taken every one of these decisions to protect them from this terrible virus.

"We must control this virus. We must keep people safe.

"These actions are also profoundly in the national interest too because it’s in everyone’s interests that we control the virus as locally as possible.

"Local action like this is an important tool in our armoury to deal with outbreaks while we get the country back on its feet."
 

Reaction to the Local Lockdown

Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said there should be no suggestion that restrictions being re-introduced were the fault of the local population.

She told the Science Media Centre: "Instead, we need to ask real questions about the adequacy of the UK Government’s response to this whole crisis and whether it has, most immediately, failed the people of Leicester.

"Have adequate testing facilities been in place? 

"Are test results available quickly enough to make rapid contact tracing and isolation and support of contacts viable? 

"Has the devolution of test and trace to private companies – rather than adequately resourcing local public health agencies – been the right approach? 

"Has the national release of lock down in England been too rapid given the number of cases in the community?"

Prof Sheila Bird, formerly programme leader at the MRC Biostatistics Unit, University of Cambridge, took issue with the importance attached to Leicester having three times as many cases as the next highest city. She argued that health officials should be asking "whether that highest percentage is higher than the top percentage should be".

Questions have also been raised about how boundaries for local lockdowns can be defined. Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, recently said: "Local authority boundaries can run down the middle of the street with one side in one local authority and the opposite another.

"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."

Leicestershire County Council said it was working on a postcode checker for those who lived on city borders and were unsure whether the measures applied to them.

Nick Rushton, leader of Leicestershire County Council, said: "Clearly coronavirus does not adhere to lines on a map. And although county rates are below the national and regional averages, we can't be complacent, and it makes sense to step up restrictions in areas closer to the city."

The localised lockdown is the largest since the pandemic began. Previous lockdowns have been on a narrower scale. They have included:

  • The closure of Weston Hospital in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, to new admissions after a cluster of cases

  • Closure of two GP surgeries in Enfield, North London

  • Closure of a meat processing factory in Kirklees, West Yorkshire

  • Closure by the Welsh Government of two food factories in Anglesey and Wrexham

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