Leading doctors are urging the UK government to give councils accurate up-to-date data to manage localised Covid-19 surges, as No 10 continues to come under fire over claims it is failing to handle Leicester’s lockdown.
The British Medical Association (BMA), which represents doctors in the UK, said supplying information on localised infections was “crucial to allow swift action and to protect lives”.
The intervention came as Downing Street faced renewed criticism of the pace at which it acted in Leicester, with the shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, accusing the government of being unfair to residents in its approach.
It also follows the Guardian reporting that parts of Kent, London, north Wales and Scotland are still dealing with significant Covid-19 outbreaks, prompting warnings that Leicester’s local lockdown will be repeated elsewhere.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chairman of the BMA council, said: “The prime minister has talked about a ‘whack-a-mole’ strategy to tackle local outbreaks, but this is no use if the people leading the response on the ground – be they public health teams or local leaders – are not given the most accurate up-to-date data possible.
“This is crucial to allow swift action and to protect lives and the health service, and something that is not happening right now. This is all the more important given that the ‘world-leading’ test-and-trace app is not in place, meaning local leaders and teams armed with up-to-date information will be vital in containing spread of outbreaks.”
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, indicated on 18 June at a Downing Street press conference that there was an outbreak in Leicester but the government only swung into action to implement the lockdown in the city and some surrounding parts this week.
With the city of more than 300,000 people accounting for one in 10 coronavirus cases nationwide in the last week, Hancock announced on Monday evening in the Commons that non-essential shops would be shut and schools closed to most pupils for at least a fortnight.
The measures mean the east Midlands city will be on a different path from the rest of England, which will enjoy new freedoms, including the reopening of pubs and restaurants from Saturday. The relaxation of shielding measures, from 6 July, will also be halted in Leicester.
Labour supports the lockdown but has been critical of Downing Street’s handling of the situation, with Ashworth saying that people in Leicester “just want clarity” over the move.
The MP, who represents Leicester South, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Wednesday: “I don’t think it’s fair to the people of Leicester to announce at a press conference on a Thursday afternoon that Leicester has a problem, but then actually take 11 days to tell Leicester that they are going into lockdown and what they are going to do about it.
“People are really worried in Leicester, people are going to be anxious. People who are shielding are very, very scared.
“People who were planning to get their businesses open this Saturday are desperately worried about their livelihoods and what happens next with the economy.
“And every parent in Leicester is concerned about the safety of their children obviously, but is also deeply concerned about their children missing out on more education.”
Alok Sharma, the business secretary, hit back at suggestions the government had acted too slowly to share information. “Data is obviously being monitored constantly by the joint biosecurity centre, together with Public Health England and the test-and-trace system and information is being made available to local authorities,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“There is a dashboard and information on test and trace is made available to local authorities right now.”
On Leicester, he added: “Over the past two weeks we have been sharing that data with the local health authorities. We’re working very closely, I just want to thank them for all the work they’re doing in terms of supporting the people of Leicester. So information is being shared. Of course, where we’re able to improve, we will do that.”
Pressed on the claim that the information came to late in Leicester, Sharma said: “All I can tell you is that my understanding is… that data was shared and has been shared over the past two weeks.”