Non-essential shops in Leicester will close from Tuesday and schools will close to most pupils from Thursday as part of restrictions imposed after a rise in coronavirus cases, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs. Mr Hancock said the easing of the lockdown planned for the rest of England on July 4 cannot happen in Leicester because of rising cases.
He said: “Given the growing outbreak in Leicester we cannot recommend that the easing of the national lockdown set to take place on July 4 happens in Leicester.”
This comes as the rest of the United Kingdom prepares for an easing of social distancing measures on July 4.
Mr Hancock also urged people not to travel to, from or within the city.
He said: “We do not take these decisions lightly, but with the interests of the people of Leicester in our hearts.”
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Matt Hancock revealed Leicester accounted for around 10 percent of all positive cases in the country over the past week.
He also confirmed the seven-day infection rate there was 135 cases per 100,000 people, which is three times higher than the next highest city.
The measures stretch beyond the city border to areas including Birstall, Glenfield and Oadby.
He told MPs: “Having taken clinical advice on the actions necessary and discussed them with the local team in Leicester and Leicestershire, we have made some difficult but important decisions.
“We’ve decided that from tomorrow, non-essential retail will have to close and as children have been particularly impacted by this outbreak, schools will also need to close from Thursday, staying open for vulnerable children and children of critical workers as they did throughout.
“Unfortunately, the clinical advice is that the relaxation of shielding measures due on July 6 cannot now take place in Leicester.
“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.
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“We’ll monitor closely adhering to social distancing rules and we’ll take further steps if that is what’s necessary.”
Mr Hancock said only essential travel in and out of the city would be permitted, and a walk-in centre dedicated to testing would be put in place.
He also explained there would be extra funding to help councils, and support for businesses during this time.
In a statement, Leicester City Council said there have been 944 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the city in the past two weeks.
The statement said an indoor testing centre is due to open on Tuesday at the Highfields Community Centre, with further testing sites planned.
The council said 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.
“We will of course continue to play our part in keeping people in the city safe and healthy.”
Jonathan Ashworth said that people impacted by the Leicester lockdown need “clarity” and not briefings from “over-eager advisers”.
The shadow health secretary told the Commons: “People in Leicester were concerned, anxious and scared to read in the newspapers and see on the TV screens yesterday news that we were going into some form of lockdown based on anonymous briefings.
“Grandparents who had recently formed bubbles to see their grandchildren were asking me whether they had to withdraw again, parents were asking about whether they could send their children to school today. Those shielding were particularly worried.”
Liz Kendall, Labour MP for Leicester West, tweeted: “Getting on top of the COVID-19 spike in Leicester & protecting public health must be our first priority.
“I’m extremely concerned about children missing school & local businesses & jobs. But if we don’t bring infection rates down it will be worse for us all in the long run.
“We can and we will beat this virus by working together. I urge the Government to ensure Leicester gets all the resources we need including more testing kits & facilities, promoting health messages in all languages & more inspections/support in workplaces, if that is required
“Lessons must also be learnt from the handling of Leicester spike. Govt was too slow getting Council even basic postcode data which is essential to tackling the problem.
“And over last few days there have been off the record briefings leaving people anxious & confused
“These issues must be addressed. Because this won’t be the last local outbreak and we need a faster and clearer strategy to grip problems and ensure we keep everyone healthy and safe”