Leicester first UK city in extended COVID-19 localised lockdown

Aditi Khanna

London, Jun 30 (PTI) A surge in the number of coronavirus infections has resulted in an extended lockdown being imposed from Tuesday on the eastern England city of Leicester, which has one of the country’s largest India-origin populations.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed the extension for the Leicestershire region in the House of Commons for at least two weeks more than the rest of England, which is preparing to substantially lift restrictions from this Saturday.

'We recommend to people in Leicester, stay at home as much as you can, and we recommend against all but essential travel to, from and within Leicester,' Hancock told Parliament on Monday evening.

'We'll monitor closely adhering to social distancing rules and we'll take further steps if that is what's necessary… If we are – as a nation – to ease from lockdown smoothly, then those areas that do see flare-ups will need greater speed in the response, otherwise we risk no moles getting whacked,” he said.

The Cabinet minister said the city had “10 per cent of all positive cases in the country over the past week”.

This means pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers preparing to reopen will have to delay their plans for reopening from this weekend.

Suburbs of Leicester, such as Oadby, Birstall and Glenfield, will also be affected, and the health minister said details of the wards in Leicestershire covered by the new lockdown measures would be published 'imminently'.

Leicester's seven-day infection rate of 135 cases per 100,000 people was 'three times higher than the next highest city' and admissions to hospital were between six and 10 per day – compared to about one a day at other trusts.

The re-imposition of stricter social distancing norms mean all non-essential shops will close from Tuesday and schools for most pupils, except those of key workers, will be close from Thursday.

The relaxation of shielding measures on 6 July – which will allow the most clinically vulnerable to spend more time outside – will also not take place in the city.

It comes after Leicester City Council reported 944 positive tests in the two weeks to 23 June – about one in 16 of the total UK cases during that period.

Mayor of Leicester Sir Peter Soulsby said the measures imposed by the government were 'stricter than we anticipated but we understand the need for firm action'.

'I can understand it from (the government's) perspective – they are entirely convinced that the level of the transmission of the disease in Leicester is at a higher level than I think the figures show,' he said.

Leicestershire County Council leader Nick Rushton said 'protecting residents is our main concern' and added it 'makes sense to step up restrictions in areas closer to the city'.

Besides, the local councils will be provided extra funding to enhance communications to the population on COVID-19 in all relevant languages, including Gujarati – a common language spoken among the city’s Indian-origin residents. A walk-in test centre as well as mobile testing units are being made available to Leicester.

The government said it is trying to 'get to the bottom” of the potential reasons behind the spike in the region but it is feared that the large ethnic minority population of Leicestershire makes it more vulnerable to the deadly virus – as highlighted by a previous Public Health England review which found that ethnic minorities were at a higher risk from coronavirus.

Rakesh Parmar, an Indian-origin owner of the Ye Olde Sweet Shoppe in the city centre, was among the local business people who said the further restrictions would mean a hard financial hit but understood why they were required.

'The impact of coronavirus hit us on 23 March, we closed for 10 weeks, and then opened again on 15 June – it's been one long slog,' he said.

Local politicians, including Leicester East MP Claudia Webbe, have accused the government of taking a hasty approach to lifting lockdown restrictions. South Leicestershire MP Alberto Costa said he was working to get 'necessary clarity' over the areas affected by the localised lockdown. PTI AK PMS PMS