Leicester coronavirus lockdown ‘came too late and risks dissent and disorder’, scientists warn

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - JULY 01: A man walks down a near empty shopping street during lockdown on July 01, 2020 in Leicester, England. Ten per cent of all the recent UKs Covid-19 deaths occurred in Leicester, which became the first British city to be put into regional lockdown on Tuesday night. (Photo by Darren Staples/Getty Images)
Lockdown has been reimposed in Leicester after a surge in coronavirus cases. (Getty Images)

The local coronavirus lockdown in Leicester was imposed too late and "risks creating disorder", a group of independent scientists has warned.

Independent Sage – a rival group that is separate to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) which advises the government – described the local lockdown as a "foreseeable crisis of the government's own making".

Restrictions were increased in Leicester on Monday following a spike in COVID-19 cases in the area, with 944 new cases identified in the last two weeks.

Health secretary Matt Hancock on Tuesday told parliament that non-essential retailers would have to shut up shop, just two weeks after they reopened their doors following months in lockdown.

A person wearing a protective face covering boards a bus on Bowhill Grove in Leicester, where the localised lockdown boundary cuts through. A local lockdown has been imposed following a spike in coronavirus cases in the city.
A passenger wearing a protective face mask on a bus on Bowhill Grove, Leicester. (PA)

With pubs, cafes and restaurants reopening their doors across England on Saturday, those in Leicester will have to remain shut, with people advised to travel only if absolutely necessary.

Read more: Warning over COVID-19 ‘illusion’ amid fears of more local lockdowns

The group has described the situation in Leicester as "predictable and avoidable" - and warned it expects to seen further "spikes" of infection in other towns and cities.

It said the localised outbreak was a consequence of "the premature lifting of lockdown restrictions at a time when the virus is still circulating widely in some areas".

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It also pointed to the lack of a fully functioning test, trace and isolate system across all areas of England.

Read more: PM to face Commons grilling after ministers order Leicester lockdown

A statement on the group's official website read: "It [lockdown] has come too late and, by being imposed on the locality, rather than being developed and implemented with the locality, it risks creating uncertainty, dissent, and even disorder.

“In the case of Leicester, and for future such cases, we advocate a response that is led by local government, supported by agencies such as PHE [Public Health England] health protection teams, the NHS and the police and with additional funding from central government.

"The imposition of local restrictions should only be considered in the context of such an overall package of support, they should only be a last resort and used as a temporary measure.

"Such an approach will maximise both the efficacy of infection control measures and public support for these measures."

The statement also addressed Leicester’s multicultural population and high levels of poverty – but said the city’s ethnic minorities were at risk of being “blamed” by far right groups for the localised quarantine measures.

Members of the army work at a coronavirus testing station set up in Victoria Park in Leicester, England, Tuesday June 30, 2020. The British government has reimposed lockdown restrictions in the English city of Leicester after a spike in coronavirus infections, including the closure of shops that don't sell essential goods and schools. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
Members of the army work at a coronavirus testing station set up in Victoria Park in Leicester. (AP)

It read: “Leicester is a city rich in multiple cultures and traditions, yet also has high levels of disadvantage and poverty. The imposition of a lockdown, without the prior involvement of local authorities, has already created massive confusion about who can do what, where and when.

“It risks creating a deep sense of resentment and of inequity in the local populations. It also creates a situation in which racist groups may politicise that resentment by blaming ethnic minorities for the lockdown.”

Read more: Walkers confirms 28 factory workers in Leicester have coronavirus

Earlier this week, Boris Johnson paid tribute to the people of Leicester for their “forbearance” in accepting the return of controls including the shutting of non-essential shops and the closure of schools to most children.

An NHS public safety message in Leicester after the Health Secretary Matt Hancock imposed a local lockdown following a spike in coronavirus cases in the city. (PA)
An NHS public safety message in Leicester a local lockdown was imposed in Leicester. (PA)

During PMQs on Wednesday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer blamed the prime minister for a "lost week while the virus was spreading" after alleging local authorities were not given full coronavirus data.

A PHE regional map for testing across England shows the towns and cities suffering high numbers of cases. The data covers all mass testing in England.

The map shows that the worst affected regions (with at least 45 cases per 100,000 people in the week to 21 June) are Leicester – which went into further lockdown on Tuesday – Barnsley, Bradford and Rochdale.

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