Harsher restrictions are coming into force in Leicester following a surge in the number of coronavirus cases in the city.
Non-essential shops will be closed from Tuesday, the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks to shift focus to the recovery from the pandemic with a multi-billion pound “new deal” for infrastructure projects, and schools will close from Thursday.
Rising numbers of cases in the East Midlands city – 10% of all positive cases in the country over the past week – mean the planned easing of restrictions on Saturday will not take place, with people advised against all but essential travel.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said Leicester’s seven-day infection rate was 135 cases per 100,000 – three times that of the next highest city.
While the exact area impacted is not expected to be made clear until later on Tuesday, Mr Hancock said Leicester and the surrounding conurbation including Oadby, Birstall and Glenfield would be included.
Local authority boundaries will complicate deciding which areas to include in the heightened restrictions, with parts of Oadby to Leicester’s south east and Birstall to the city’s north overseen by Leicestershire County Council.
Harborough, Oadby and Wigston MP Neil O’Brien tweeted the measures would “apply in outer parts of Leicester too – including all of my constituents in Oadby, Wigston and South Wigston”, but that Great Glen, a village two miles south of Oadby, was not included.
South Leicestershire MP Alberto Costa said the delay on clarification on restrictions was “frustrating”.
He tweeted on Monday evening: “I’m still awaiting official confirmation as to which parts of South Leicestershire are included in the local lockdown, I wouldn’t want to give anyone information that isn’t correct.”
His constituency includes Braunstone Town, a neighbourhood of around 17,000 people, which is separated from the city by the single carriageway Braunstone Lane.
Leicestershire County Council leader Nick Rushton said it made sense to step up restrictions in areas close to the city.
He 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.”
Mr Hancock said the measures would be kept under review and would not stay in place “any longer than is necessary”, adding: “We’ll review if we can release any of the measures in two weeks.”
He told the Commons: “These actions are 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.”
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth, who represents Leicester South, said: “We were alerted to the situation in Leicester 11 days ago and now we’ve got tonight from the Secretary of State the whack-a-mole strategy.
“Doesn’t he agree that if we’re as a nation to ease the lockdown smoothly then those areas that do see flare-ups will need greater speed in the response, otherwise we risk no moles getting whacked?”
Leicester City Council said there had been 944 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the city in the past two weeks, and that an indoor testing centre would open on Tuesday at the Highfields Community Centre, with further testing sites planned.
It is reviewing its plans to extend the opening of its own buildings such as libraries, museums and children’s centres.
The city’s mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said: “These measures are stricter than we anticipated but we understand the need for firm action.
“I am determined that we will make this work and to minimise the time these additional measures need to be in place in the city.”
The city area also includes the King Power Stadium, home of Leicester City, who are due to host a Premier League game against Crystal Palace this weekend – a match which could now be moved to a neutral venue away from the area.
Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson said: “I did hear on the news today there was a potential problem in Leicester.
“I am perfectly happy to let the Premier League take care of that. I am certain they will tell us where and when the game should be played.”
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister will use a keynote speech in the West Midlands on Tuesday to say his message is “build, build, build” as the UK comes out of lockdown after the Covid-19 pandemic, and that the Government intends to spend £5 billion “to accelerate infrastructure projects”.
He is expected to say: “This is a Government that is wholly committed not just to defeating coronavirus but to using this crisis finally to tackle this country’s great unresolved challenges of the last three decades.”
What are the local lockdown measures in Leicester?
Non-essential shops which opened on June 15 must shut from Tuesday onwards in Leicester.
That includes clothes shops, toy shops and clothes shops.
It means many retail firms in Leicester must not open their doors on Tuesday morning – despite the lockdown coming with just hours to spare, after they closed up for the night.
Primary schools which opened to some pupils from June 1 must once again close in Leicester, to all but the most vulnerable or children of key workers, from this Thursday.
Pubs, restaurants, hotels, hairdressers and more in the city will not reopen as in the rest of England on July 4.
And shielding for vulnerable people will not be eased in Leicester when it is in the rest of England on July 6.
People in Leicester must once again “stay at home as much as you can” and cease non-essential travel.
So is the law now different in Leicester to the rest of England?
Not yet, but it will be soon.
The Department of Health and Social Care is expected to publish a law enacting the measures on Tuesday.
It is likely to be similar to the laws that enforced lockdown in the rest of England.
It’s not yet confirmed if people will be hit with fines of £100 for breaching the tighter local lockdown.
Will there be roadblocks to enforce it?
Matt Hancock did not mention roadblocks in his statement and No10 indicated they were not the priority.
However, the Health Secretary also warned: “We recommend against all but essential travel to, from and within Leicester.”
If people continue to travel in and out of the city, the government has not explicitly ruled out such checks in future.
Where exactly does it apply?
The drastic measures also apply to surrounding areas including Oadby, Birstall and Glenfield.
Leicestershire County Council public health bosses have been charged with drawing up areas to fall under the local lockdown.
A more specific description of which areas are affected is expected to be announced on Tuesday.
How long will the local lockdown last?
It looks like it will last at least two weeks.
The local measures have no fixed end date and will be reviewed for the first time in two weeks’ time.
Could there be more local lockdowns?
Yes, it’s possible.
Boris Johnson promised a “whack-a-mole” approach to local outbreaks and Mr Hancock said there could be “local lockdowns”.
But the government has also been accused of responding too slowly to Leicester, where concerns were raised weeks ago.
Matt Hancock revealed 10% of all positive cases in the country over the past week have been in Leicester.
He said the 7 day infection rate in the city is 135 cases per 100k people – three times higher than the next highest city.
And there are six to 10 admissions to hospital a day rather than one a day at other trusts.
Sources have told the Mirror meat processing plants and gatherings around takeaways have come under the spotlight as a possible source of the outbreak.
And Labour’s Leicester MP Jon Ashworth pinpointed high poverty and a large BAME population who are at greater risk.
What support will the city get?
The city – which has already had four mobile testing units sent in – will now receive “further testing capability” including a walk-in centre.
There will also be extra funding for Leicester and Leicestershire councils for public information campaigns, including translations in “appropriate languages”.
Support will be made available to those who have to self-isolate and the government will work with specific workplaces that have seen clusters of cases.
Areas with spiking coronavirus cases
The English cities, counties and London boroughs which have seen coronavirus case rises in recent weeks are, in alphabetical order:
- Barking and Dagenham
- Hammersmith and Fulham
- Isle of Wight
- Kensington and Chelsea
- Milton Keynes
- Redcar and Cleveland
- Richmond upon Thames
- Tower Hamlets
- Windsor and Maidenhead
How will areas be selected for localised lockdown?
Health Secretary Matt Hancock last month said that regional flare-ups of the virus in England would result in “local lockdown”.
He told a Downing Street briefing there would be “local lockdowns in the future” with the Joint Biosecurity Centre having a “response function” that could address local spikes in infections, in partnership with local public health agencies.
Mr Hancock has said that under local lockdowns schools, businesses or workplaces could be closed in areas with a high prevalance of infection.
Public Health England said there was no threshold for determining when a local lockdown should be implemented
Instead, advice would be given on a case-by-case basis and decisions taken by leaders based on this advice and the specific circumstances of the area, it added.