Leicester lockdown looks likely to be extended as officials set to meet

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Stacey Foster

Ministers and top health and science advisers are to meet on Monday evening as it looks increasingly likely a lockdown in Leicester will be extended.

The city's Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said the Government was still “minded to extend the current level of restrictions for two weeks” which could see pubs, restaurants and hairdressers in Leicester forced to stay closed for another fortnight after a rise in coronavirus cases.

Sir Peter said he “remains sceptical” after his discussion with Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Monday afternoon “took matters no further” than the report he received in earlier.

It comes as ITV News has learned the city's Walkers crisps factory saw 28 coronavirus cases in June.

The factory is to stay open as it is understood that the transmission of the virus has occurred within the community not within the factory.

A Walkers' spokesperson said: "The safety of our team and their families is our number one priority and we continue to maintain the highest level of vigilance to help prevent the spread of the virus and to protect our people.

"We have seen an increase in the number of confirmed cases, reflecting the situation in the local community and coinciding with the roll-out and uptake of testing. We are in regular contact with the local health authorities and government bodies and are reassured that we have all the correct measures in place to protect our employees.

The mayor of Leicester Sir Peter Soulsby with a report from Public Health England. Credit: PA

Sir Peter has heavily criticised the Government over its handling of the situation in the city, saying he needs to “be convinced” that an extension to lockdown is necessary.

According to Public Health England data, almost 3,000 Covid-19 cases have been confirmed in Leicester since the start of the coronavirus epidemic.

Of these, 866 cases were reported in the last two weeks.

With England’s pubs, restaurants and hairdressers set to reopen on July 4, the people of Leicester may have to wait for the recent flare-up to subside.

Sir Peter said a Public Health England (PHE) report sent to him overnight had been “cobbled together” and “readily acknowledges” that cases are higher in Leicester due to higher levels of testing in the city.

ITV News Science editor Tom Clarke on the situation in Leicester

This would mean pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, outdoor playgrounds and other areas would not reopen in line with the rest of England as planned on July 4.

He also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme of his anger, saying: “It was only last Thursday that we finally got some of the data we need but we’re still not getting all of it and it was only at 1.04am that the recommendations for Leicester arrived in my inbox.

“What they’re suggesting is not a return to lockdown, it seems that what they’re suggesting is that we continue the present level of restriction for a further two weeks beyond July 4.

“I’ve looked at this report and frankly it’s obviously been cobbled together very hastily.

“It’s superficial and its description of Leicester is inaccurate and certainly it does not provide us with the information we need if we are to remain restricted for two weeks longer than the rest of the country.”

It has previously been suggested that a local lockdown could include:

  • identifying the surge at testing centres

  • informing infected communities

  • communication campaigns, including leaflets and visits by health officials

  • shutting individual businesses and schools and requiring people to self-isolate

Speaking about the situation in the city on Monday morning, Boris Johnson said the government was “concerned about Leicester” and talked of the need for a “whack-a-mole” strategy amid suggestions the city could have an extended lockdown.

On a visit to a construction site in west London, the Prime Minister said: “We are concerned about Leicester, we are concerned about any local outbreak.

“I want to stress to people that we are not out of the woods yet.

“We are making these cautious, calibrated steps, we are opening as much of hospitality as we can on July 4, opening as much of the economy as we can – some things, alas, still remain closed until they can become Covid-secure.

“But to make all that possible we have to remain vigilant.”

He said the local strategy had worked in Weston-super-Mare and where there had been outbreaks around GP surgeries in London.

It is unclear whether that would mean just the place where an outbreak occurred, like a factory, or an entire geographical area.

Leicester public health director Ivan Browne was also critical about the level of information given to the city to tackle the outbreak.

He told the Today programme: “I don’t think at the moment we’re seeing a single cause or a single smoking gun on this, so we need really try to dig down and find out what is going on and it’s likely to be a combination of factors.

“Information has been challenging all the way through this.”

The Labour MP for Leicester East, Claudia Webbe, said the government’s lifting of lockdown restrictions on July 4 while her constituency was seeing a new spike in cases would be “reckless”.

She said countrywide lockdown measures introduced in late March should be re-introduced in Leicester, such as asking people to stay in their homes as much as possible and the two-metre social distancing restriction.