BRITAIN has imposed a stringent lockdown on Leicester following a flare-up of the novel coronavirus, implementing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “whack-a-mole” or localised clamp-down strategy.
The re-imposition of stricter social distancing norms meant all non-essential shops will close from Tuesday (30) and schools for most pupils, except those of key workers, will be close from Thursday.
“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,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
“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.”
The UK has been one of the world’s worst-hit countries, with nearly 55,000 suspected deaths, though infections have waned and many restrictions are to be lifted across England from Saturday to revive the economy.
However, in Leicester, that relaxation is in reverse after figures showed its seven-day infection rate was three times higher than the next worst city. Leicester accounted for 10 per cent of positive cases in England in the past week, the government said.
This meant pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers preparing to reopen will have to delay their plans.
Suburbs of Leicester, such as Oadby, Birstall and Glenfield, will also be affected. Hancock 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 ten per day – compared with about one a day at other trusts.
The lockdown decision was taken 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.
Owner of the Ye Olde Sweet Shoppe in the city centre, Rakesh Parmar, 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.
Shane Durrant, who works at a bookmaker, said: “Going back into lockdown might be a good thing to get rid of the virus. But on the other hand, a lot businesses are going to suffer.”
Residents said people had been widely flouting social distancing and other measures when the government first began easing rules two weeks ago.
“I think if people listened and stayed at home, then we wouldn’t be here,” said Bob Sharma, a bank manager.
Pawn broker Arun Mortala said people had not been wearing masks or keeping distance when back on high streets.
“I was expecting that this was going to happen,” he said.
The prime minister thanked the people of Leicester for their “forbearance”.
“I always said there were going to be local flare-ups and that we would deal with them locally, and that’s what we are doing in Leicester and we’ll do it elsewhere,” said Johnson.