The Health Secretary has announced a partial lifting of lockdown measures in Leicester – thanking residents for their hard work to halt the spread of coronavirus.
In a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Hancock said Covid-19 rates in the city “still remain well above the national average and the average for surrounding areas”.
But he added: “We’re now in a position to relax some but not all of the restrictions that were in place.
“From July 24 we’ll be removing the restrictions on schools and early years childcare and taking a more targeted approach to the restrictions on non-essential retail, replacing the national decision to close non-essential retail with a local power to close them where necessary.”
Mr Hancock said: “The latest data shows that the seven-day infection rate in Leicester is now 119 cases per 100,000 people and the percentage of people testing positive is now at 4.8%.
“These are positive indicators, especially in light of the huge increase in testing.”
He also compared the figures to when the lockdown was imposed and the seven-day infection rate was 135 and 10% of tests were positive.
Urging people in Leicester not to lose their resolve in following social distancing and other measures to combat the spread of coronavirus, the Health Secretary said restrictions on non-essential travel and only having social gatherings of up to six people would remain in force.
The hospitality sector will also remain under lockdown, pending another review in a fortnight, Mr Hancock said.
He also announced changes to the lockdown boundary, saying the restrictions would now only apply within the city of Leicester and the borough of Oadby and Wigston. The boundary changes will come into effect on July 24, Leicestershire County Council said.
— Leicestershire CC (@LeicsCountyHall) July 16, 2020
Mr Hancock continued: “Some say that the local lockdown is unnecessary.
“I wish this were true, but sadly it remains vital for the health of everyone in Leicester and the rest of the country that these restrictions stay in place.
“We will review them again in a fortnight.
“I hope that this careful easing of restrictions will provide some comfort to people in Leicester and Leicestershire.
“And I’d say this directly to people of Leicester and of Leicestershire: I pay tribute to you all.
“Your perseverance and your hard work has brought real and tangible results and you’ve shown respect for one another.”
Stressing that there was “still a lot to do” in Leicester, Mr Hancock said: “The sooner we get this virus under control, the sooner we can restore life in Leicester and across the country to normal.”
The announcement came after Leicester’s mayor urged the Government to lift its local lockdown in 90% of the city.
Sir Peter Soulsby said the local coronavirus outbreak was being dramatically driven down, and claimed data provided to city officials showed that only 10% of Leicester had higher transmission rates.
In an interview with BBC Radio Leicester, Sir Peter claimed the Government had got local people into a “messy situation” by its handling of the restrictions.
Sir Peter reacted to the Government announcement by accusing Mr Hancock of a politically-motivated attempt to penalise the city and its economy.
Commenting to media gathered at Leicester’s City Hall, Sir Peter criticised the decision to keep the restrictions in the whole of the Labour-run city of Leicester and in Liberal Democrat-controlled Oadby and Wigston.
Sir Peter said: “I am very disappointed but not surprised at what he’s done.
“What they have chosen to do now is not to focus on the areas of the city where the virus is and where we actually need to be putting our attention.”