Action to slow the spread of coronavirus in Leicester over the last 11 days failed to work and tougher measures were needed, the Health Secretary has said.
Matt Hancock said a range of targeted interventions over the last week or so – including working with factories that saw a spike in cases – had not managed to stem the outbreak.
It came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson thanked the people of Leicester for their “forbearance” in dealing with the new coronavirus restrictions.
Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast: “We have been monitoring it incredibly closely, we have put in extra testing units, some of the schools in Leicester were closed already.
“We also went into some of the factories and workplaces where there was an outbreak and we put in place measures.
“These sorts of much more targeted measures have worked in other outbreaks.
“So we’ve been taking this highly localised approach but unfortunately that targeted action wasn’t working in Leicester and that’s why we have taken this much broader measure.”
Under the new lockdown measures, non-essential shops will shut in Leicester while schools will close to most pupils from Thursday.
People are also being told to avoid all but essential travel to, from, and within Leicester and should stay at home as much as possible.
The planned opening of restaurants, pubs, cafes, hairdressers and cinemas across England from Saturday will also not happen in Leicester.
However the city’s football team said its three remaining Premier League fixtures would not be affected by the lockdown.
Mr Hancock said Leicester had seen 10% of all positive cases in England over the past week, while Leicester’s seven-day infection rate was 135 cases per 100,000 – three times that of the next highest city.
There had been widespread confusion over exactly which towns and villages in Leicestershire are included in the lockdown.
Leicester City Council said it had not been given all the information it needed but that affected areas included Braunstone Town (including Fosse Park), Glenfield, Glen Parva, Leicester Forest East (east of the M1) and Thorpe Astley.
It also said Birstall, Thurmaston and all areas of Oadby and Wigston were included in the lockdown.
Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby criticised the slow response from the Government and Public Health England (PHE) in sharing case and testing data for the city.
“What we said to the Government was, it’s all very well telling us that the figures are high in Leicester,” he said.
“What we need to know is what’s happening at the community level, what’s happening at the neighbourhood level, what’s happening at the street level, because obviously we’re a very diverse city and a very big city, and it’s only if you have that sort of information you can understand what the overall city figures might amount to.
“We’ve got that data and we’re still trying to work through the mountain of stuff that’s now come through and try to map it and to see where in the community the virus is still active and where it might be spreading.”
He said some colleagues “have had to spend quite a lot of time persuading” contact tracers on the ground to stay in Leicester “as some of them were on occasions seeking to decamp to go and measure elsewhere.”
The press conference heard that number-crunching so far, including data from around 800 people in hospital with Covid-19 infection, had shown hotspots in parts of the city.
Sir Peter said: “There are no parts of the city where there are alarming concentrations but it is true that there are higher proportions going into hospital on the east and north east side of the city.”
He said the hospital data had shown who was most affected, adding: “Men have been quite heavily affected particularly in late middle age, elderly people have been hit particularly hard, and BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) communities in general have had somewhat higher rates of admission to hospital than the white community.”
Overall, he urged people to “stick together” and stay at home to control the spread of the virus.
Earlier, Mr Hancock did not rule out forcing people to stop travelling outside of Leicester but said he hoped locals would heed the new advice.
“On travel, we are recommending against travel unless it is essential but we are not putting that in place in law at this stage,” he said.
“Of course we will if we have to.”
Leicestershire Police said it was a “dynamic situation” and it would “provide proportionate policing under the relevant legislation”.
It added: “Our approach has always been clear that we will use the four Es – engage, explain, encourage and enforce where necessary.”
– Britain’s most senior police officer Dame Cressida Dick has urged the public to be calm when pubs reopen in much of England on Saturday, as hospitals were told to prepare for an influx of cases on the night.
– The Prime Minister said his message was “build, build, build” as the UK comes out of lockdown.
– The Government has paid out more than £25 billion to furloughed UK workers and guaranteed nearly £43 billion worth of loans to businesses, according to figures from the Treasury and HMRC.
– The number of deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK is now just under 55,000, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
– The UK economy contracted by more than first thought between January and March as the coronavirus crisis saw activity tumble 2.2% in the joint largest fall since 1979, the ONS said.
Mr Hancock said there had been “an unusually high incidence” of coronavirus among children in Leicester but stressed that youngsters were at low risk of serious illness from coronavirus.
Defending the decisions on schools reopening, he said: “Where the prevalence is now very low in large swathes in the rest of the country, essentially, then reopening of the schools is safe.
“But when the disease starts to spread fast as it is doing in Leicester, then we do have to close the schools but it’s not for the protection of the children because they’re safe at school, it’s to slow the spread.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his party supported tougher measures in Leicester but the Government had “been slow about it” and many people were left with their questions unanswered.
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