Mayor for Leicester: “We don’t know if there is anything there at all,” he said. The DHSC shared more data on test results from the city with the council on Thursday, he said, but this did not include information on people’s ethnicity or place of work, which would help target interventions.
The process has been “incredibly frustrating”, he added. “Almost every day last week, we had to argue for them to keep on doing testing here.”
Leicester council chiefs ‘surprised’ by plan to put city in local lockdown
Plans for Leicester to be the first area to go into local lockdown after a surge in coronavirus cases were a shock to the city’s council chiefs.
Sir Peter Soulsby, the mayor of Leicester, said his team had been “taken by surprise” by the idea, because that “certainly wasn’t the terms in which we’ve been talking”.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, confirmed the plan, as reported in The Sunday Times, on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show this morning.
Government sources said that Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has been examining the legislation required for the shutdown after it was revealed that there have been 658 coronavirus cases in the Leicester area in the fortnight to June 16.
A source close to Hancock said he is “quite worried” and is considering “all options” for how to respond to the spike in cases, including imposing a localised lockdown.
Sir Peter said that the Department of Health and Social Care had been slow to share the figures on which they were basing their decision, with hospital admissions and the number of fatalities going down “exactly in proportion to the decline elsewhere in the country”.
“We don’t know if there is anything there at all,” he said. The DHSC shared more data on test results from the city with the council on Thursday, he said, but this did not include information on people’s ethnicity or place of work, which would help target interventions.
The process has been “incredibly frustrating”, he added. “Almost every day last week, we had to argue for them to keep on doing testing here.
“They were talking about pulling out one of the [mobile] testing stations.
“We’ve been diverted by an enormous amount of time spent just persuading them to do what I would have thought was the obvious, which was to up the level of testing in the city, not withdraw it.”
Asked by Mr Marr whether the reports on lockdown plans for Leicester were accurate, Ms Patel said: “Well, that is correct.”
She added: “There will be support going into Leicester and in fact the health secretary was in touch with many of us over the weekend explaining some of the measures, the support on testing, resources that will go into the local authority as well.”
Yesterday Samworth Brothers, which runs one of the UK’s largest sandwich production operations, confirmed that a “handful” of staff at its Leicester factory had contracted the virus, and there have been reports of large gatherings outside takeaway restaurants.
There are also concerns that the virus has been spreading throughout the city’s large Asian community, who are more likely to live in multigenerational households.
It is understood that the government has the power to take action under the 1984 Public Health Act. However, it is unlikely that action will be taken before the middle of this week.
“So far local action has been taken to lock down individual hospitals and GP surgeries where there has been an outbreak but this situation is more serious than that, although no decision has yet been taken,” a government source said.
Separately, an expert in infectious diseases has said there were questions over how a localised lockdown would work. Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said: “Defining the specific area will be one of the largest problems. Local authority boundaries can run down the middle of the street with one side in one local authority and the opposite another.
“Urban sprawl has allowed towns and cities to expand resulting in these areas often joining other areas who identify differently and do not see themselves as part of the expanding town or city.
“Locking down at the regional level would be seen as unfair or worse as Leicester City has really very little to do with rural Lincolnshire. People do not identify with their regional boundaries and many would not actually know where they are.
“If Leicester is locked down, how much of the surrounding area do you include. A quick view at the satellite picture demonstrates this problem. Much of the surrounding area probably does not identify as part of Leicester City itself.”
Andrew Bridgen, the Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire, said: “Unfortunately the fact that the government is having to contemplate specific measures to control the spread of the virus in Leicester is now unavoidable in order to protect the rest of the country.”
A spokesman for the DHSC said: “We are supporting the council and local partners in Leicester to help prevent further transmission of the virus. We have deployed four mobile testing sites and made thousands of home testing kits available, to ensure anyone in the area who needs a test can get one.
“NHS Test and Trace will contact anyone testing positive to help them identify their recent contacts, and advise who may have been near to someone with the virus to stay at home to prevent the spread.
“We urge the people of Leicester to continue to practise social distancing, wash their hands regularly, get tested immediately if they have symptoms and follow the advice they receive if contacted by NHS Test and Trace. This advice is there to protect communities and save lives.”