Leicester is the first city in the UK to re-enter strict lockdown after a local surge in new coronavirus cases.
More than 950 new cases have been recorded in a two-week period, which has prompted the government to re-impose restrictive measures on the city, including the immediate shutting down of all non-essential shops and sending all but a few children home from school from Thursday (July 2).
On Monday evening (June 29) health secretary Matt Hancock made the announcement, also warning against all but essential travel in and out of the city of 300,000 people.
Speaking on Sky News today (June 30), Hancock said the UK’s first local lockdown will have to be underpinned by new legislation.
“We will be bringing forward a legal change very shortly, in the next couple of days, because some of the measures that we’ve unfortunately had to take in Leicester will require legal underpinning,” he said, adding that the police would ‘in some cases’ need to enforce the lockdown.
The city-wide lockdown, which will encompass some towns a few miles outside of Leicester city proper, will remain in place for an initial period of two weeks after which the situation will be reviewed, Hancock said.
The local surge in cases in Leicester and subsequent lockdown comes as the rest of the England will begin to open up even further, with pubs, cinemas, restaurants and certain other businesses being allowed to open from this Saturday (July 4).
The health secretary said the decision to impose city-wide restrictions in Leicester came after ‘targeted action’ such as extra testing in workplaces where there were outbreaks failed to contain the spread.
Some were critical of the government’s approach to the local lockdown, with Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth noting that the lockdown announcement lacked clarity.
“There is confusion about essential travel and what it means for people who travel to work outside the boundaries,” he said. “There is also no clarity about what extra resources will be put in place to increase testing capacity and what financial support will be available to businesses.”
The Leicester lockdown has raised fears that other areas in England may follow, with 36 cities or counties now experiencing a fresh surge in coronavirus cases, according to the Telegraph.
The newspaper highlighted several cities or towns in England that have seen upticks in cases, including Doncaster, where there were 11 new cases in the week to June 19, rising to 32 one week later.
In Derbyshire, there were 25 new cases in the week to June 26, up from 23 the week previous. And while overall London has seen the number of confirmed coronavirus cases fall, nearly half of the capital’s boroughs are seeing a rise in new confirmed cases.
The Telegraph’s analysis also highlighted the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on Black Asian and ethnic minority (BAEM) communities, noting that eight in ten local authorities with the lowest proportion of white residents have experienced a week-on-week rise in cases.
Commenting on the Leicester lockdown, Unite regional secretary for the East Midlands Paresh Patel also highlighted the effect on BAEM communities.
“There will be some factors causing this spike, such as over-crowded housing and the inequalities we know make Leicester’s BAEM community especially vulnerable to this deadly virus,” he said.
“But combatting coronavirus is a national duty as well as a local one so I urge the government to step up and help with whatever additional funding is needed to ensure that the NHS has the resources that it needs, and to assist employers through what will inevitably be an extended period of economic inactivity,” Patel added.
“Everything that can be done must be done to protect the public’s health and to avoid layoffs and even more damage to an already badly damaged regional economy.
“Working people need to be able to stay home and isolate in order to get this virus under control but they can only do that if they know that they will have an income,” he went on to say. “It is vital that then that the furlough scheme is extended as a matter of urgency but also where workers not on furlough are forced home sick that they get statutory sick pay from day one and on a rate that supports decent living.”
“I urge the government at Westminster to learn the lessons from Leicester,” Patel went on. ”We are not out of this crisis and our communities and economies are extremely fragile. You have promised to do `whatever it takes’ to support people during these frightening times, so now is your chance to show the people of Leicester that you keep your promises.”
By Hajera Blagg