Coronavirus: Matt Hancock eases Leicester lockdown as schools and shops can re-open — but pubs and restaurants to stay shut
Matt Hancock gave an update to the Commons on the local lockdown in Leicester (Parliamentlive.TV)
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has moved to relax part of the local lockdown in Leicester with schools and shops allowed to re-open, but pubs and restaurants will have to stay shut.
He said the Covid-19 infection rate in the East Midlands city has come down, but despite “positive indicators” cases “still remain well above the national average”.
In a statement to the Commons, the Cabinet minister said it the Government was “now in a position to relax some, but not all of the restrictions that were in place” from next weekend.
Businesses in Leicester were not allowed to come out of lockdown along with the rest of England at the start of July after a spike in positive cases for coronavirus.
But mayor Sir Peter Soulsby has criticised a "blanket political-led lockdown" of the whole of the city, saying he has been angry and frustrated at the Government's approach.
Mr Hancock told MPs on Thursday: “I committed to reviewing the measures in Leicester every two weeks.
“This morning I chaired a gold meeting of the local Action Committee to discuss the latest situation.
“And this afternoon I held a further meeting with local leaders, Public Health England, the JBC [Joint Biosecurity Centre], the local resilience forum and my clinical advisors.
“The latest data show that the seven-day infection rate in Leicester is now 119 cases per hundred thousand people, and that the percentage of people who have tested positive is now at 4.8%.
“These are positive indicators, especially in light of the huge increase in testing in the local area, but they still remain well above the national average.”
He added: “We're now in a position to relax some, but not all of the restrictions that were in place.
“So, from the 24th of July, 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 when necessary.
"This is all part of our more targeted approach.
“However, other restrictions, like those for travel, and only having social gatherings of up to six people, for example, will remain in force.
“And measures introduced on the 4 July, like reopening the hospitality sector, will also not apply.”
Mr Hancock finished his statement by saying: “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.”
Earlier Sir Peter had told Sky News: "Some streets have no issue at all and in other streets nearby you've got a major issue, and we needed to know that at the time so we could intervene with pinpoint accuracy.
"Further advice needs to be given, support needs to be given, and we needed to know where that advice and support was needed."
He said local leaders “have not been involved in any of the decision-making about this”, adding: "We have been told what the political decisions will be, and we will be told again what the political decision will be - whether or not we come out of it.”
Responding to Mr Hancock in the chamber, the Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth praised the people of Leicester “for their fortitude in doing all we can to drive this infection down now through 17 weeks of lockdown”.
“We welcome the opening of non-essential retail, but there are many businesses who were preparing to open their doors for the beginning of July... and they will want to know whether they will get any specific extra business support,” the Labour frontbencher said.
But he warned the Health Secretary: "As you know, Leicester is a city that suffers from high levels of child poverty, insecure work, low pay, and lack of decent sick pay.
“We have many deep rooted economic problems, and the spike in the city or the large outbreak in the city appears to coincide with these inner-city areas where we know there's high levels of deprivation and overcrowding.
“We also know we have a large ethnic minority community so can you explain why he's not yet implemented the recommendations of the Public Health England report into protecting those from minority ethnic backgrounds?”