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No 10 accused of sowing confusion over Leicester lockdown No 10 accused of sowing confusion over Leicester lockdown
(about 3 hours later)
Shadow health secretary says government must pinpoint how new restrictions will workShadow health secretary says government must pinpoint how new restrictions will work
Downing Street has been accused of sowing confusion and anxiety in Leicester as it imposes the first local lockdown to combat a surge in Covid-19 cases in the city, with the health secretary facing demands to pinpoint how the measures will work. Downing Street has been accused of sowing confusion and anxiety in Leicester after imposing the first local lockdown to combat a surge in Covid-19 cases in the city, amid growing concern about how the measures will work.
In an evening statement to the Commons on Monday, Matt Hancock announced that schools would shut to most children and reopened shops would be forced to close as restrictions were strengthened for two weeks in Leicester. As part of hardened restrictions, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced on Monday night that schools will shut to most children and reopened non-essential shops will be forced to close for at least two weeks in Leicester.
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats back the lockdown but criticism is brewing over the government’s handling of it, with the parties calling for clarity over the details. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats backed the lockdown but criticised the government’s handling of it and called for clarity over the details.
The measures mean the city, where more than 300,000 people live, will be set on a different path from the rest of England, which will enjoy new freedoms, including the reopening of pubs and restaurants from 4 July, on what has been labelled “super Saturday”. The measures mean the east Midlands city, where more than 300,000 people live, will be set on a different path from the rest of England, which will enjoy new freedoms, including the reopening of pubs and restaurants from 4 July. The relaxation of shielding measures, from 6 July, will also be halted in Leicester. On a fast-moving day of developments on Tuesday:
Downing Street confirmed on Tuesday that businesses forced to shut their doors again in Leicester will be able to re-furlough their staff from Wednesday if they have used the scheme before. Police sought to allay concerns that people from Leicester may seek to travel to nearby places, including Nottingham, to escape lockdown measures.
Enforcing the Leicester lockdown would mean a “legal change”, Hancock said on Monday morning. But the shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, whose constituency is Leicester South, urged the health secretary to hold a press conference to answer further questions. Downing Street confirmed that businesses forced to shut their doors again will be able to re-furlough their staff from Wednesday if they have used the scheme before.
“The government’s response to the situation in Leicester has left people anxious and confused,” Ashworth said. “We support the government’s decision to reintroduce lockdown restrictions. However, there are a number of outstanding questions about how the government intends to implement these restrictions and get the outbreak back under control.” The city’s Labour mayor hit out at the government, claiming it was too slow to share vital coronavirus testing data with local officials.
The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, also backed the call for the government to hold a press conference, highlighting that “people in Leicester are crying out for answers to perfectly legitimate questions”. The NHS trust running the city’s three acute hospitals was preparing to announce on Wednesday that it is going on red alert in anticipation of an expected wave of seriously ill Covid-19 patients as a result of the rise in infections.
Hancock told the Commons the measures which will be reviewed in two weeks will also apply to surrounding areas of the city, including Oadby, a town 3 miles south, and the villages of Glenfield and Birstall, 3 miles north. The bishop of Leicester confirmed no weddings or funerals could take place in church buildings, and some schools started closing ahead of Thursday’s lockdown.
However, Ashworth said it was not clear how this would work, adding: “There is confusion about essential travel and what it means for people who travel to work outside the boundaries. There is also no clarity about what extra resources will be put in place to increase testing capacity and what financial support will be available to businesses. Downing Street resisted Labour calls, led by the leader, Sir Kier Starmer, and shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, to hold a press conference on Tuesday to answer questions about the lockdown.
“No 10 said the afternoon press conferences would now only take place if the government had ‘something really important to say’. We believe the situation in Leicester meets that criteria.” Ashworth said: “The government’s response to the situation in Leicester has left people anxious and confused. We support the government’s decision to reintroduce lockdown restrictions. However, there are a number of outstanding questions about how the government intends to implement these restrictions and get the outbreak back under control.”
A source close to Hancock hit back: “We set this out in parliament yesterday, and took questions for an hour. Labour used to complain that we announced things at press conferences rather than coming to parliament to announce them. I think they are a bit confused about their own position.” The acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, added that while he supported the lockdown, the government had been “totally unclear”.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said there was “no current plan” for Hancock to hold a press conference on Tuesday, highlighting that the health secretary has spoken already in parliament and given broadcast interviews. However, a source close to Hancock hit back, saying measures had been outlined in parliament, and adding: “Labour used to complain that we announced things at press conferences rather than coming to parliament to announce them. I think they are a bit confused about their own position.”
The acting leader of the Lib Dems, Ed Davey, said: “I support the plan to lock down Leicester; the first priority is keeping people safe. However, the government has been totally unclear about how it will enforce the lockdown or whether it even has the legal power to enforce it. The measures which will be reviewed in two weeks will also apply to surrounding areas of the city, including Oadby, a town 3 miles south, and the villages of Glenfield and Birstall, 3 miles north.
“Senior ministers have said for months as the national lockdown ends local lockdowns are likely, but there seems to have been almost no planning of how this will work in practice.” Speaking to Sky News on Tuesday, Hancock said the government would be “bringing forward a legal change very shortly, in the next couple of days, because some of the measures that we’ve unfortunately had to take in Leicester will require a legal underpinning”.
“Will there be roadblocks or checks? Will extra funds be made available for businesses and individuals who were just getting back on their feet after months of lockdown?” The prime minister’s spokesman added later: “The powers to impose lockdowns already exist under the Public Health Control of Disease Act 1984 The health secretary must sign regulations under this act in order to maintain and reimpose restrictions for Leicester.”
Infections in Leicester have increased by nearly 950 in a fortnight, according to the city council. And one in 10 Covid-19 cases in England in the last week were in Leicester. Non-essential shops, which were only allowed to reopen earlier this month as part of lockdown easing, will close from Tuesday, and schools will be shut to all but a small number of children from Thursday. Hancock said that in some cases the local lockdown would be enforced by police. Amid concerns that people may try to travel from Leicester to other areas where lockdown measures are being eased, the Nottinghamshire police chief constable, Craig Guilford, said: “I think most people in Leicester will respect that and it has been put in place for a reason. If we get any intelligence from Leicester, such as a minibus or coach travelling to Nottingham, then we will act accordingly.”
Hancock said that in some cases the local lockdown would be enforced by police. Speaking to Sky News on Monday morning, he said: “We will be bringing forward a legal change very shortly, in the next couple of days, because some of the measures that we’ve unfortunately had to take in Leicester will require a legal underpinning. We will be making the legal change so non-essential retail is no longer open.”Asked if people from Leicester could simply drive to other locations to go to pubs and restaurants when they open in the rest of the country, Hancock said: “We’re recommending against all but essential travel both to and from and within Leicester, and as we saw during the peak, the vast majority of people will abide by these rules. Of course, we will take further action, including putting in place laws if that’s necessary, but I hope that it won’t be.” Meanwhile, Leicestershire’s Labour police and crime commissioner, Willy Bach, said police in Leicester were not issued a map of the area affected by the lockdown until “well after the announcement”.
Commenting on the suggestion new laws would be needed to impose the Leicester lockdown, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “The powers to impose lockdowns already exist under the Public Health Control of Disease Act 1984 The health secretary must sign regulations under this act in order to maintain and reimpose restrictions for Leicester.” The government’s lockdown was prompted by a rise in local infections, with Leicester accounting for one in 10 positive cases in the country over the past week. Leicester’s mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, claimed Downing Street and Public Health England (PHE) had been too slow to share testing data, which local leaders had been trying to obtain for weeks.
Leicester’s mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, said the government had been aware of an outbreak for two weeks and had not shared vital data with the local authority. He told the BBC: “Since then, we’ve been struggling to get information from them [the government] about what data they had, what led them to believe there was a particular problem here, and struggling to get them to keep the level of testing in Leicester.” “I wish they had taken a more speedy decision rather than leaving it 11 days from the secretary of state’s first announcement,” he said. “That’s a long gap, and a long time for the virus to spread.”
Speaking at a press conference later on Monday, Soulsby suggested it had been a struggle to keep testing going in the city, although it had recently been increased. University Hospitals of Leicester NHS trust will on Wednesday announce that it is going on red alert in anticipation of an expected wave of Covid-19 patients.
The trust, which runs the city’s three acute hospitals, has seen only “a slight increase” in the number of patients admitted in the last few days. Of the 80 people it was treating for Covid-19 on Tuesday, only “a handful” were recent arrivals and the total number of inpatients with the disease has remained steady since the start of June.
However, the trust is implementing its plans to deal with what may soon become an increase in the number of people needing to be cared for in an intensive care unit, high dependency unit or ward.
Schools in Leicester were taking a pragmatic approach to the order to close. The Lionheart academies trust, which includes 12 primary and secondary schools in and around the affected area, closed all of them from Tuesday, two days before the deadline.