Life as Leicester went into lockdown...again

Last night I waited for the Health Secretary's announcement with a mixture of journalistic detachment and the emotions of someone deeply rooted in the area. The first thing I wanted to know; exactly where would be locked down?

As with many cities, Leicester has spilled well beyond its borders in recent years.  I live in a village eight miles from the City Council boundary, yet if asked, locals will tell you they are from Leicester.  Many of my neighbours spend most of their time in the city.  Were we to be included?

So all that night and well into the next morning there were hundreds of calls, questions and speculation about the borders of the quarantine zone.  Fake maps were doing the rounds on social media.  A colleague told me that his mother was in tears, waiting to find out if she was to be locked down or not.  This question was finally answered when the definitive map was published - twelve hours after the initial announcement from the Health Secretary.  The first question had been answered.  But there were many more.

Map of lockdown in Leicester - the red outline indicates the extent of the lockdown. Credit: Leicestershire County Council

This morning, local radio presenters fielding phone calls from anxious listeners, resorted to scouring the text of Matt Hancock's speech to Parliament, trying to interpret the meaning and answer their questions.  Could they continue their social bubble with a relative outside of the quarantine zone?  Were they expected to go to work?  What was to stop people from the city driving fifteen minutes to towns like Hinckley or Loughborough for a pint or a haircut?  If I'm a key worker in the city but live in the county, can I still go on holiday next week?

As of lunchtime on Tuesday, there was no document or website with specific official guidelines, as there had been in the early days of the national lockdown.

The Conservative MP for South Leicestershire Alberto Costa, told ITV News Central that the instructions were clear; Leicester was back to week one of the lockdown - the most severe version.  So no meeting-up at a social-distance in the park, no tennis, no holidays, no long-distance drives, and just one session of daily exercise on your own.

But look again at the Health Secretary's words:

Health Secretary Matt Hancock at a coronavirus briefing Credit: PA Images

"Recommend".  "As much as you can."  Will any of this be enforced?  Will police be issuing fines for those suspected of leaving the city?  Or is it up to individuals whether to follow the recommendations?  To use Matt Hancock's words from the start of April; was this an instruction or a request?

We are still waiting to hear the official comment from Leicestershire police.

But perhaps the biggest question of all can only be answered by the scientists, not the politicians.  Why Leicester?  Is it bad luck?  Or was there an event, a moment or combination of social factors which has led to a rise in cases where numbers elsewhere were falling?  We may need to wait some time for that answer.

Some business owners who had just re-opened, or were preparing to come back this weekend, may well despair.  But despite the confusion, and despite the frustration, there seems to be a sense in the city and the county of acceptance; of pulling together for the greater good.  Few will criticise the Government for imposing a local lockdown if it helps stop the spread locally.  But many would welcome a little more clarity.

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