Leicester lockdown: Restrictions could be extended for two weeks

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock first mentioned an “outbreak” in Leicester on 18 June

Pubs and restaurants in Leicester may stay closed for two more weeks due to a surge in coronavirus cases, the city’s mayor has said.

Sir Peter Soulsby said the government has recommended current restrictions are maintained for a further fortnight.

Sir Peter told the Today programme the city could “remain restricted for two weeks longer than the rest of the country”.

On Sunday the home secretary said the city faced a possible local lockdown.

In the two weeks to 23 June, there were 866 positive cases in Leicester – 29% of the 2,987 who have tested positive since the pandemic began.

Coronavirus restrictions across England are due to be eased from 4 July, with pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and hotels allowed to reopen.

But Sir Peter said he had received an email from the government overnight and “it seems they’re suggesting we continue the present level of restriction for a further two weeks beyond 4 July”.

“That’s very different from the dramatic ‘lockdown in Leicester’ that was being briefed over the weekend,” he added.

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Media captionHome Secretary Priti Patel: “It is right we have a local solution”

Sir Peter criticised the report as “superficial” and said “it 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”.

He later told LBC a meeting between local and government officials planned for Monday morning had been cancelled.

On Sunday’s Andrew Marr Show Ms Patel said she had spoken to the health secretary about a possible localised lockdown, and “extra support” would be going into the area, adding: “With local flare-ups, it is right we have a local solution.”

The Department of Health said four mobile testing sites and thousands of home testing kits had already been sent to Leicester.

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Testing has been stepped up in the city over the past 10 days

Ivan Browne, the city’s director of public health, said he had received more detailed data on local cases.

“Interestingly it’s very much around the younger working-age population and predominately towards the east part of our city,” he told BBC Radio 4.

“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.”

Leicester East MP Claudia Webbe has called for a lockdown due to a “perfect storm” of poverty, positive tests and higher ethnic diversity.

About 28% of Leicester’s population is of Indian heritage, and a further 21% are from black or Asian backgrounds.

We should get use to these local flare-ups – they are going to become a way of life over the coming months.

Given the amount of virus still around – there are still around 1,000 positive tests every day across the UK on average – there will be clusters developing as people return to something near normal life.

What’s important is that they are brought under control quickly and don’t spread.

The fact a local outbreak has been identified in one part of Leicester suggests the system is working to some extent – although it’s fair to ask whether it could have been spotted more quickly given cases have been growing for a number of weeks.

With extra testing facilities parachuted in officials will be desperately trying to get a clear idea of just how far it has spread so delaying the further easing of restrictions is the logical step.

If more cases keep emerging a local lockdown will be on the cards.

Should it be like this? Some argue we should have suppressed the virus further before easing – essentially going for elimination like New Zealand.

But for a country like the UK where the virus had spread further before lockdown and with its size of population and packed cities that is somewhat harder.

Dr Manish Pareek, a consultant at Leicester Royal Infirmary, said many of the recent cases were from “inner-city areas…which have high levels of ethnic diversity, pockets of deprivation but also quite crowded housing with inter-generational and multi-occupancy households”.

“It brings together a number of factors which are almost like a perfect storm for a virus to be spread within,” he added.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are working alongside Public Health England to support the council and local partners in Leicester to help prevent further transmission of the virus.

“Based on the latest data, there are now four mobile testing units deployed and thousands of home testing kits available, to ensure anyone in the area who needs a test can get one.”

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