A local lockdown has been imposed on Leicester by Health Secretary Matt Hancock after a spike of cases in the city.
It comes as the rest of England prepares to ease restrictions on pubs and restaurants from Saturday – and on the day Boris Johnson sets out a multi-billion pound plan for Britain to recover from the pandemic.
Mr Hancock told MPs that non-essential shops in Leicester will close from Tuesday and schools will shut to most pupils from Thursday.
He said the easing of the lockdown planned for the rest of England on Saturday cannot happen in Leicester because of rising cases.
He made the announcement in a Commons statement that came at 9pm, four hours after expected and following a day of talks with Leicester officials.
Mr Hancock said Leicester’s seven-day infection rate is 135 cases per 100,000, which is three times higher than the next highest city.
Leicester accounts for around 10% of all positive cases in the country over the past week, and hospital admissions are between six and 10 per day rather than around one a day at other trusts, he said.
He said: “Given the growing outbreak in Leicester, we cannot recommend that the easing of the national lockdown set to take place on July 4 happens in Leicester.”
The Health Secretary advised people from Leicester to stay at home as much as they can while the local lockdown measures continue.
He told MPs: “Having taken clinical advice on the actions necessary and discussed them with the local team in Leicester and Leicestershire, we have made some difficult but important decisions.
“We’ve decided that from tomorrow, non-essential retail will have to close and as children have been particularly impacted by this outbreak, schools will also need to close from Thursday, staying open for vulnerable children and children of critical workers as they did throughout.
The risk of catching #coronavirus is much less, if you’re 2 metres away from an infected person than if you’re 1 metre away.
— Leicester City Council (@Leicester_News) June 29, 2020
“Unfortunately, the clinical advice is that the relaxation of shielding measures due on July 6 cannot now take place in Leicester.
“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.
“We’ll monitor closely adhering to social distancing rules and we’ll take further steps if that is what’s necessary.”
He said the measures will apply to Leicester and the surrounding conurbation including Oadby, Birstall and Glenfield and promised the exact details would be published “imminently”.
However that had still not happened early on Tuesday just a few hours before the restrictions on shops were due to begin.
South Leicestershire MP Alberto Costa said he was working to get “necessary clarity”, tweeting: “I know this is frustrating – I’m still awaiting official confirmation as to which parts of South Leicestershire are included in the local lockdown, I wouldn’t want to give anyone information that isn’t correct.”
Mr Hancock said the measures will be kept under review and will not be kept in place “any longer than is necessary”, adding: “We’ll review if we can release any of the measures in two weeks.”
He told the Commons: “These actions are profoundly in the national interest too because it’s in everyone’s interests that we control the virus as locally as possible.
“Local action like this is an important tool in our armoury to deal with outbreaks while we get the country back on its feet.”
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth, who represents Leicester South, said “We were alerted to the situation in Leicester 11 days ago and now we’ve got tonight from the Secretary of State the whack-a-mole strategy.
“Doesn’t he agree that if we’re as a nation to ease the lockdown smoothly then those areas that do see flare-ups will need greater speed in the response, otherwise we risk no moles getting whacked?”
Leicester City Council said there have been 944 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the city in the past two weeks, and an indoor testing centre will open on Tuesday at the Highfields Community Centre, with further testing sites planned.
It is reviewing its plans to extend the opening of its own buildings such as libraries, museums and children’s centres.
The city’s mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said: “These measures are stricter than we anticipated but we understand the need for firm action.
“I am determined that we will make this work and to minimise the time these additional measures need to be in place in the city.”
The Prime Minister will use a keynote speech in the West Midlands on Tuesday to say his message is “build, build, build” as the UK comes out of lockdown after the Covid-19 pandemic, and that the Government intends to spend £5 billion “to accelerate infrastructure projects”.
He is expected to say: “This is a Government that is wholly committed not just to defeating coronavirus but to using this crisis finally to tackle this country’s great unresolved challenges of the last three decades.”