Coronavirus: What is a local lockdown and how does it work?

A council work sprays toilets with disinfectant.
A council worker in Leicester sprays a toilet with disinfectant. Credit: PA

Pubs, restaurants and hairdressers in Leicester are forced to stay closed as part of a lockdown extension following a rise in coronavirus cases, Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed.

But what is a local lockdown and how will they work?

What has happened in Leicester?

The city has recorded 866 new cases of coronavirus in the last two weeks, leading to speculation over the weekend that it would be locked down.

The number of coronavirus cases in Leicester is currently three times higher than the second highest city in the UK.

What is a local 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 prevalence of infection.

Matt Hancock could implement local lockdowns. Credit: PA

When will local lockdowns be introduced?

PHE said there was no threshold for determining when a local lockdown should be implemented.

Advice will 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.

How will these be implemented?

Specialist teams from the local authority or PHE can use powers to contain local outbreaks such as closing public spaces, businesses and venues.

The PA news agency understands there are ongoing discussions about how these will work in specific circumstances and if any further powers are needed.

What powers do councils have already?

Council and public health leaders have said local authorities have the powers needed to tackle outbreaks in schools, businesses or care homes.

But Greg Fell, Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) board member, told a committee of MPs earlier this month that they did not have the power to shut down local areas or whole cities.

Closing schools if there is an outbreak is an option. Credit: Yui Mok/PA

Any powers to lock down communities would need to be conferred to local leaders, he told the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee.

But he warned that if a city needed to be placed into lockdown “we may well be in national lockdown territory by that time”.

How do you place a community into lockdown?

Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said one of the biggest problems is deciding who is in the lockdown and who is not.

He said that locking down at a regional level could be seen as “unfair” but if Leicester was placed in lockdown then questions remained about how much of the surrounding area should be included.

He added: “One of the biggest problems is deciding who is in the lockdown area and who is not. This needs to be understandable to both the people who are inside and the people on the outside.

“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.”