Government officials have recommended the current lockdown measures remain in force in the city of Leicester for an extra two weeks as restrictions are eased across the rest of England from this Saturday.
Leicester’s mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said he received a report by email just after 1am on Monday detailing the suggestions which he said were unjustified and had been “hastily cobbled together”.
He said it had left him “angry and frustrated”, adding that a meeting due to take place this morning between him, the council’s director of public health Ivan Browne and Whitehall officials to discuss a local surge in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, had been cancelled.
“What they are recommending is that they extend for two weeks the present level of restrictions when the rest of the country has them lifted on 4 July,” he told LBC Radio.
“Even that, when I look at their report as I have done over the last few hours, is not justified by any of the figures they have let us have. There is very little substance in it.”
He said he expected the talks to be rescheduled: “My guess is they will have to talk to us at sometime, but I have to say if they are talking to us on the basis of this report, they are talking to us on the basis of something hastily cobbled together, incredibly superficial, and clearly based on a misunderstanding or a failure to understand the city.
“I gather that a group of officials came here for a day visit and talked to a few people and then went back and cobbled this report together.
“That is not the basis for sensible policy-making about the very considerable dangers of this virus
“I have been saying to them if it’s necessary then of course we will do it. I will do anything to protect the people of Leicester from the virus if it is necessary – but they have to demonstrate to me that it is necessary, and I have to demonstrate to the people of Leicester that it is necessary, and they have failed absolutely to do that so far,” he added.
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Sir Peter said the council was only provided with detailed testing information for the first time on Thursday – a week after Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced there was a local outbreak in the city.
It comes as the green light has been given for pubs, restaurants, hotels, hairdressers and barbers in England to reopen from 4 July, with parks and shops with outdoor entrances able to reopen in Scotland, and schools in Wales welcoming more pupils.
According to Public Health England data, almost 3,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Leicester since the start of the pandemic.
Of these, 866 cases were reported in the last two weeks.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told Sky News: “I know that the government is working very closely, both with the mayor and Leicester City Council – in terms of making sure that the next steps and the right steps are taken in dealing with this pandemic.
“We have to accept – and this isn’t about Leicester but the whole of the country – there will be periods over the coming months where we will see local lockdowns.
“We will have to take action in certain local areas in order to keep on top of this deadly virus.”
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said on Sunday that Leicester was an area of concern and urged residents to be vigilant against the virus.
It stopped short of saying a local lockdown was likely.
Sir Peter insisted more testing data is needed before deciding whether to implement a local lockdown in Leicester.
He argued the information is “key to determining what intervention is needed” to respond to the spike in COVID-19 cases.
“If it is decided that a local lockdown is needed the city council currently has no powers to implement this, and there would need to be extensive discussion around the area to be locked down, including whether this extends beyond the city boundaries,” he said earlier.
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Former government chief scientific officer Sir Mark Walport told Sky News it would be necessary to “clamp down” as clusters begin to reappear.
He said: “The… thing that is becoming clear now is that when outbreaks occur, they typically occur in clusters and we’re seeing certain work environments, for example food-processing factories, as being fairly common places for those clusters to arise.
“In Korea for example, they found that places of worship were places that clusters have arisen and the common denominator being indoors, being crowded, being there for prolonged periods of time and noisy environments where people are coughing and shouting and so there is more droplet transmission.
“And so, again, it comes back to local control being really important to identify those clusters when they happen and clamp down on them quickly.”
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The DHSC said 43,550 people had died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Saturday, up by 36 from the day before.
The government figures do not include all deaths involving COVID-19 across the UK, which are thought to have passed 54,000.