Leicester Lockdown: Who's in charge and how did it unfold?

The Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the City Mayor of Leicester Sir Peter Soulsby have not always seen eye to eye Credit: PA Images

By ITV Central Producer, Raheem Rashid

A local lockdown in Leicester was announced on the evening of Monday 29th June.

It was after 866 people tested positive for the virus in the two weeks leading up to July.

The spike accounted for 10% of the country's entire coronavirus cases.

At the time, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, said the local lockdown was to try and crack down on rising numbers in the city.

But, two and a half weeks on, patience has started to wear thin and public spats have broken out between local and national politicians about how and why it happened.

So, who's in charge and how did we get here?


The Fight over Figures:

The City's Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, has claimed from the start that he wasn't being shown all of the testing data - information which was being used to make decisions about Leicester's lockdown.

Sir Peter Soulsby Credit: PA Images

He now claims the whole lockdown was unnecessary, as he's now seen data which shows only a very small number of inner-city areas had high infection rates.

He says given what the data shows, "it is no longer possible to justify the continuation of the “lockdown” across the remaining 90% of the Greater Leicester area."

The areas in Leicester and parts of Leicestershire that are under local lockdown Credit: Leicestershire County Council

So who's really been making the decisions, and what data have they been using?


What does Leicester City Council say?

Sir Peter Soulsby is the city's mayor and the face of the city council.

The weekend before the lockdown was announced he said he had little faith in the evidence.

If there were to be a lockdown it would have to be based on the evidence and we as yet do not have the evidence and I don't believe the Government has either.

Sir Peter Soulsby, City Mayor of Leicester, speaking on 28th June

But, just a day later, on Monday 29th June, his tone had changed - he now seemed fairly relaxed about the proposition:

And when the local lockdown was officially announced, the Mayor told reporters that the lockdown “was I think more wide-ranging than we’d anticipated” but that he was "grateful for that," because it is "something that has some realistic prospect of being effective.”

He called early on for data on "which neighbourhoods, which communities, indeed which streets" were affected.

But, over the weeks his frustrations have grown. He claims data being provided to local health officials is:

  • Not detailed enough

  • Up to two weeks out of date

  • And, doesn't justify a lockdown

Meanwhile, on 9th July he published a seven-page account of the days leading up to the decision on the council's website, saying he'd received conflicting information from Public Health England and the government.

He also claimed he wasn't getting help which had been promised, or permission to offer help locally.

Mr Hancock did promise us that the Government would support businesses in Leicester, but now they are saying they won't. Government do not have to pay us any further money to support businesses, we simply need permission to spend the funds we have.

Sir Peter Soulsby

Then, on 13th July, having received new data, Mr Soulsby said there was proof that the spike in coronavirus cases is confined to a very small number of inner city areas, and thus the lockdown was unnecessary.

Today he says he does finally have the data he needs, but he maintains that the government has "failed to recognise that they need to engage with local people, local councils...if they'd given us the data we could have done that weeks ago."


What does the Government say?

Matt Hancock officially announced the lockdown on 29th June.

He said various measures had been tried in Leicester "but it was clear that we needed to take this further action".

On testing data, health officials maintain they've been sending relevant and detailed information "for weeks."

Leicester has had access to full postcode data on positive tests for weeks and we will continue to support them with information, intelligence and expert advice to help them drive down the virus.

Public Health England started providing record-level, test data on 24 June enabled through a data sharing agreement with Directors of Public Health. This contains additional information such as full postcode, age and ethnicity where available.

Public Health England

In response to the claims that the restrictions have been too widespread, the Department of Health told us:

Seeing that cases in Leicester were significantly higher than other parts of the country, we make no apology for working with Leicester leaders to take decisive action to reverse this trend and save lives.

The Government’s priority is to protect the public, which is why local partners in Leicester have been able to access government-held data from 19 June, and we are working closely with them so that these necessary local restrictions can be removed as soon as possible.

Department of Health

The government says any lifting of the lockdown in Leicester "can't be rushed" and must be based on infection rates falling.

Police in Leicester after local lockdown is announced. Credit: PA

How did the lockdown unfold?

  • Sunday 28th June

The idea of a local lockdown in Leicester is now widely being discussed.

Sir Peter Soulsby says it would have to be based on the evidence and as yet he doesn't have the evidence, and doesn't believe the Government does either.

  • Monday 29th June

Soulsby meets with Government health officials, and the lockdown is announced later that evening.

  • Tuesday 30th June

Non-essential shops close...there's mixed reaction from people within the city.

  • Thursday 2nd July

Schools in Leicester close again to most pupils.

Some people living in the city report an increase in racism following the announcement of the local lockdown.

It came on the same day as a report found there was no obvious source for the outbreak - with no one school, workplace or medical setting responsible

  • Friday 3rd July

Allegations are made that textile manufacturers may have contributed to the surge. Firms hit back saying the claims were hugely misleading and bad for the industry.

  • Saturday 4th July

Lockdown ends for the rest of the country.

Pubs reopening on July 4th Credit: PA Images

While the rest of the country is allowed to have their first pint in a new post-lockdown world, pubs and restaurants in Leicester stay shut.

  • Thursday 9th July

Sir Peter Soulsby says he still has no confidence in the information being passed to him justifying why the city went into lockdown.As well as that, in an exclusive interview with ITV News Central, a former factory worker in Leicester claims staff were exploited and forced to work in poor conditions with low pay. 

  • Friday 10th July

The Health and Safety Executive tell ITV News Central they've been investigating firms throughout the week. They said they were impressed with most of the factories they visited but there were concerns.


  • Samantha Wells, Health and Safety Executive


Testing is stepped up in the city, with more mobile testing units being built in areas like Spinney Hill Park.

  • Saturday 11th July

MPs in Leicester write to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak urging him to provide financial support for the city.

Business and Industry Minister Nadhim Zahawi says there are "no plans" for any further aid measures, beyond the furlough scheme and business grants.

  • Monday 13th July

New testing data shows the rate of new cases in Leicester has fallen.

114.3 Cases

Per 100,000 people in Leicester in the seven days to July 10.

156.8 Cases

Per 100,000 in Leicester in the seven days to June 26 - the days leading up to lockdown

Sir Peter Soulsby says he's “finally” been given “useful data” which he asked for weeks ago.

He said it shows the local lockdown was unjustified and preventable, as only a small number of neighbourhoods (around 10% of the city) had higher than expected Covid-19 transmission rates.

But health officials say any decision to lift Leicester's lockdown "can't be rushed" and will depend on coronavirus rates falling.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said the city is still “quite an outlier" compared with the rest of the country, adding: "The situation has improved but it needs to go further."

The situation has improved but it needs to go further.

Health officials on the current state of the Leicester lockdown
  • Tuesday 14th July

The Health Secretary says a review of the lockdown will take place on Thursday (16th July).

He adds testing measures have been stepped up and the numbers have been seen to be falling. Though he adds caution, saying "the number of positive cases in Leicester is still well above the rest of the country."

Residents were sent texts telling them to get tested. Credit: ITV News Central

On the same day, more than 9,000 households in Oadby and Wigston in Leicestershire were told to get tested for the virus - whether they have symptoms or not.

Residents were sent texts by their GP and given leaflets.

  • Wednesday 15th July

Sir Peter Soulsby says he has "no idea" what will be announced tomorrow, but does now have more complete data about where the cases are in the city.

This (the data) clearly shows that the areas most significantly affected by the virus are those with high levels of deprivation in the inner city.

Sir Peter Soulsby speaking on the day before the review

He says given what this data shows, "it is no longer possible to justify the continuation of the “lockdown” across the remaining 90% of the Greater Leicester area."

  • Thursday 16th July

The government will review the lockdown measures in Leicester, with the Health Secretary saying an announcement will be made "as soon as is reasonably possible."

The Speaker of the House tells MPs the Health Secretary is to make an "important statement" providing a coronavirus update at 5pm.


Analysis:

The spotlight has been on Leicester because it is the first time a whole city has been forced into lockdown at the very time the rest of England was being encouraged to open up. It's exposed the tensions between local leaders on the ground and the decision makers at national level under the provisions of the Coronavirus Act - that emergency legislation brought in at the start of the pandemic.

Much of the controversy has centred on who knew what and when about the data on infection rates , and whether - once it was fully disclosed - it signalled that the decision to lock down the whole city was the right one.

The Department of Health has insisted it "makes no apology" for the 'decisive action' it took to save lives, Sir Peter Soulsby has maintained throughout that the data was disclosed too late and that had it been shared in the early days the lockdown could have been restricted to a few streets.

So was the move made for politcal reasons or on the basis of practical safety? Let's remember that scientists and data experts advise - it's politicians who make the decisions.

Alison Mackenzie, ITV Central's Political Correspondent


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