The message was clear; "Twelve Days To Save Christmas".Leaders from the NHS, Police and local authorities across both Leicester and Leicestershire, came together for a virtual briefing this morning (Friday, November 20), and the tone was sombre."I am worried. This is not where I would want to be halfway through a national lockdown," said Leicestershire's Director of Public Health Mike Sandys.At a time when many areas are starting to see a slowdown in cases, the opposite is happening here.Is this the result of one "last hurrah" a fortnight ago? Is it caused by "lockdown fatigue" as people's discipline slips in a city which has faced restrictions since March? Or are we simply seeing the inevitable wave of cases move north to south down the country?
The City Mayor suggested that rather than "lockdown fatigue", it was more a case of "lockdown confusion" in Leicester. Sir Peter Soulsby blamed mixed messages at a national level, and the fact that rules have changed so often in his city.He was also scathing about the national "Track and Trace" operation run by Dido Harding, which he blames in part for the high case numbers, pointing to long delays between people testing positive, and their details being passed on to the City Council.
In response to the mayor's claims, A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said:
“NHS Test and Trace is breaking chains of transmission thanks to local and national teams working together closely – over 2.3 million people who may otherwise have unknowingly spread coronavirus have been contacted and told to isolate.
“We are continuously seeking to improve the service and our vital local relationships. There are now over 150 local contact tracing partnerships across the country with more to come.
“We continue to work tirelessly to make the service quicker and more effective every day.”
Whatever the reason, the picture is not a good one. There are now 25% more Covid patients in Leicester hospitals than there were back at the very height of the first outbreak in April. And numbers are only going to increase over the next fortnight.
The Chief Executive of Leicester's three hospitals, Andy Williams, quickly dismissed any notion that this was just the normal round of winter illness. "This will be a winter like no other", he told reporters.He insisted they would not be overwhelmed, but confirmed that some non-urgent procedures have already been cancelled as beds fill up with Covid patients.The message from all; whatever you might think of the lockdown rules, they must be followed.But it's clear that many are not. Chief Constable Simon Coles told reporters that they had responded to 16,000 reports of people breaching lockdown rules, visited 1,200 licensed premises, and issued 600 tickets including eight of the so-called "super-fines" of £10,000.Just last night his officers had to break up two parties, and issued tickets to people from different households all crammed into the same car.Perhaps the starkest warning came from the Leader of Leicestershire County Council Nick Rushton who warned residents that they had 12 days to start bringing down cases numbers, or "there would be no Santa Claus!"And that was the clear subtext of the briefing. The Government will review lockdown measures in less than two weeks. For some, that will mean a return to something approaching normality in the run-up to Christmas. But if things continue as they are in Leicestershire, some tough festive restrictions could be imposed.