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Lockdown tightened in Leicester over Covid surge

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Media captionMatt Hancock says the extended lockdown measures are “profoundly in the national interest”

Stricter lockdown measures have been announced in Leicester because of a rise in coronavirus cases in the city.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said non-essential shops will shut on Tuesday, and schools will close for most pupils on Thursday.

The loosening of restrictions for pubs and restaurants will also not be taking place in the city on Saturday.

Mr Hancock said Leicester accounted for “10% of all positive cases in the country over the past week”.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday evening, he added: “We recommend to people in Leicester, stay at home as much as you can, and we recommend against all but essential travel to, from and within Leicester.”

Mr Hancock said the number of positive coronavirus cases in Leicester was “three times higher than the next highest city”.

He said the decision to close non-essential retail was based on clinical advice, and added that “children had been particularly impacted” by the local outbreak.

Five Leicester schools have closed since the beginning of June because of a number of coronavirus cases.

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People in Leicester have been told to “stay at home as much as you can”

Mr Hancock said details of the wards in Leicestershire affected by the new lockdown measures would be published “imminently”.

Suburbs of Leicester, such as Oadby, Birstall and Glenfield, will be among those affected.

Leicester West MP Liz Kendall criticised the government for being “too slow” to liaise with the city council, and added: “Over [the] last few days there have been off the record briefings leaving people anxious and confused.”

The relaxation of shielding measures on 6 July – which will allow the most clinical-vulnerable to spend more time outside – will also not take place in Leicester.

Mr Hancock said the new local measures would be kept under constant review, and “we will not keep them in place any longer than is necessary”.

If there is one thing that has become clear during the pandemic, it is that the quicker action is taken the better.

Given the scale of the outbreak in Leicester that has emerged, it therefore comes as no surprise that the government is taking tough action.

But the question that is being asked behind the scenes is whether it took too long to spot the scale of the outbreak.

One of the concerns about the test and trace system is how quickly data gets passed from the national team to local officials.

The national team passes on plenty of cases – any complex cases involved care homes, schools and prisons are automatically transferred.

But what local authorities are not getting quickly are comprehensive details about individuals who test positive.

It means opportunities to spot trends and clusters early may be being lost.

It is now clear cases in the city have been growing for a few weeks.

That at least raises the concern that the outbreak has been acted on later than it should. If that is the case, it is important lessons are learned because it is highly likely there will be more flare-ups like this in the coming weeks and months.

Earlier, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a local “whack-a-mole” strategy used to deal with outbreaks in Weston-super-Mare and around GP surgeries in London would be “brought to bear in Leicester as well”.

Speaking after Mr Hancock in the Commons, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “We were alerted to the situation in Leicester 11 days ago.

“If we are – as a nation – to ease from lockdown smoothly, then those areas that do see flare-ups will need greater speed in the response, otherwise we risk no moles getting whacked.”

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