Leicester’s mayor has criticised the Government for taking a “sledgehammer approach” to the city’s lockdown after Matt Hancock announced only a partial relaxation of the measures imposed more than two weeks ago.
The Health Secretary told MPs on Thursday afternoon that restrictions on schools and nurseries would be lifted from July 24, while councils would be given local powers to close non-essential shops where necessary.
But pubs and restaurants will remain closed, and restrictions on non-essential travel and only having social gatherings of up to six people will remain in force, pending another review in a fortnight.
Mr Hancock also announced changes to the lockdown boundary, with the restrictions only applying to the city of Leicester and the borough of Oadby and Wigston from July 24.
Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, who previously claimed that data provided to city officials highlighted that only 10% of Leicester had shown higher transmission rates, said he was “bitterly disappointed” by the announcement.
He added: “I am not surprised by this decision but remain extremely frustrated that a sledgehammer approach is being taken to deal with an issue in a very small part of the city.
“Now that we finally have the very detailed data we have been calling for over the past few months, we can take targeted local action to get the virus under control, without the need for the force of law or a full city lockdown.
Bitterly disappointed but not surprised. I asked Secretary of State to focus on the 10% where the virus is - not lock down the whole of the city on an artificial political boundary. #LockdownLeicester pic.twitter.com/MBUOtOFjly— Leicester City Mayor (@CityMayorLeic) July 16, 2020
“We have already showed the Government what can be achieved when they work with local councils on the ground, by helping them to set up the biggest testing operation in the country which is now responsible for more than 10% of all testing in England.
“If the Government allowed us to focus on the 10% of the city where infection rates are higher, we are more than capable of doing what is needed.”
Sir Peter accused the Government of making a “party political” decision to keep city-wide restrictions.
Speaking to reporters at Leicester’s City Hall, he added: “They have chosen to focus on the city geographical area – effectively the area of the county that votes Labour – and that’s just scandalous.
“If they were going to alter the boundary, they should have gone down to the area that they now know where the virus is.
“They have left two areas in there – one that has a Liberal Democrat council, the other that has a Labour mayor.”
In a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Hancock said the latest data showed that the seven-day infection rate in Leicester was now 119 cases per 100,000 people, down from 135 when the local lockdown was announced on June 29.
But he added that Covid-19 rates in the city “still remain well above the national average and the average for surrounding areas”.
“Some say that the local lockdown is unnecessary,” he said.
“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.”
Following the announcement, Leicester West MP Liz Kendall tweeted: “People across Leicester will be v disappointed that whilst non-essential retail can now open our hospitality sector can’t & travel restrictions still apply. I’ll continue to push for extra support for our businesses & public services & to get our infection rates even further down.”
Her counterpart in Leicester South, Jonathan Ashworth, tweeted: “Leicester stays in lockdown & we have no clarity of how we will be released.
“Our local health officials need more testing data & we must increase testing locally. And we need the public health advice why city stays locked down but neighbourhoods next to city can be released.”
Claudia Webbe, the MP for Leicester East, wrote on Twitter: “Its disappointing many parts of Leicester will remain in #LeicesterLockdown.
“However, high rates of positive testing particularly in parts of the city with high levels of deprivation, poverty and inequality remains. In defeating the virus we cannot return to business as usual.”