FIRST UK CITY PUT BACK INTO LOCKDOWN
Spike in cases sees Leicester face strict new rules to fight second Covid wave
LEICESTER was plunged into Britain’s first local coronavirus lockdown last night.
Non- essential shops that reopened a fortnight ago will have to close again today and schools must shut once more to most pupils from Thursday.
The nationwide easing of restrictions this Saturday – including the reopening of pubs, hair salons and restaurants – will not extend to the city.
Residents were advised to stay at home as much as possible and warned against all but essential travel. The drastic move follows a spike in Covid-19 cases in Leicester, which has a population of more than 300,000.
Business owners last night spoke of their despair at the devastating news, which will cost them countless thousands of pounds.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock updated MPs on the measures in the House of Commons last night.
He said: ‘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.
‘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.’
Boris Johnson last night convened an emergency meeting to draw up a plan for tackling the outbreak in the city. It was attended by a string of senior ministers, including Michael Gove, Priti Patel, Matt Hancock, Gavin Williamson and Robert Jenrick.
Officials stressed that mini-lockdowns at GP surgeries, hospitals and factories had been successful in stamping out flare-ups but acknowledged the situation in Leicester was more serious. As Mr Johnson prepared to make a major speech today promising a ‘New Deal’ to rebuild Britain:
Another 25 people died from coronavirus, taking the total UK toll to 43,575;
Figures revealed that at the height of the pandemic twice as many dementia patients died than in normal years;
The plan to create ‘air bridges’ for holidays abroad suffered a setback as Greece extended its ban on UK flights until July 15;
A World Health Organisation chief warned a vaccine should not be seen as a ‘silver bullet’.
The new restrictions in Leicester came after data showed a Covid-19 surge in some areas of the city earlier this month.
It was almost business as usual yesterday with the main thoroughfares, outdoor market and the Highcross mall all busy with shoppers. But as the shock announcement sank in last night, publicans and other business owners who were preparing to reopen this Saturday lined up to condemn the return to a more stringent lockdown.
Katie Katon, managing director of George’s Hairdressing, which has two branches in the city centre, said: ‘We have got over 100 staff split between these two salons and a third business under a different name.
‘We’ve ordered PPE for them, we’ve set up screens in the salons and we are booked out for the next three weeks. It has cost up to £10,000 to prepare the salons – mainly the cost of the screens, but there are other things around it such as marketing videos for social media and deep cleaning.
‘This is devastating news because we can’t just push those clients back a couple of weeks. It seems that everything is up in the air.
‘We are going to have a lot of upset customers and a lot of upset staff – many of whom were depending on that money they were due to start earning.
‘ If it wasn’t for the furlough scheme we’d have gone bust already after 47 years in business. But we have big salons and big overheads and we can’t carry on like this for ever. We are a cash business.’
Moira Rossiter, 60, landlady of the Sir Robert Peel pub in the city, said: ‘It’s really difficult news to take, not just for pubs and restaurants but for all businesses which have been preparing hard for this.
‘We’ve ordered our beer in, we’ve spent hours working out seating plans and layouts. Our insurance wouldn’t cover us for the first lockdown so it won’t cover us for this.’
She said she feared Leicester was being used as a lockdown ‘guinea pig’ for the rest of the country.
Shabir Jakhura, owner of Jak’s Stationers on bustling Narborough Road – an arterial route into the city – was one of those shopkeepers who reopened a fortnight ago.
Reacting to the news that he will now have to shut his doors again, he said: ‘Oh God. This is going to be really difficult. Business had slowly been picking up since we reopened.
‘Everybody accepts that social distancing is the new normal and I don’t see why that can’t continue, with the shops staying open. To make us close again is going to be really tough.’
Mr Hancock’s announcement came in response to 866 positive coronavirus cases in the city over the two weeks up until June 23 – almost a third of Leicester’s 2,987 total since the pandemic began.
The lockdown was backed by Leicester East MP Claudia Webbe, who said there was a ‘ perfect storm’ of poverty, positive tests and higher ethnic diversity in a city where close to a third of the population are of Indian heritage, and a further one in five are from black or Asian backgrounds.
A number of reviews, including by the Office for National Statistics and Public Health England, have concluded that people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds are ‘ disproportionately’ dying with coronavirus.
New restrictions: A woman attends a mobile Covid-19 testing centre in Leicester yesterday