The mayor of Leicester, which is facing the country’s first local lockdown amid a spike in coronavirus cases, has slammed the “intensely frustrating” process of getting health information from the government.
The city has recorded 866 of its 2,987 Covid-19 cases in the last two weeks – sparking speculation that its inhabitants could be plunged into a localised lockdown.
Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby and the council’s director of public health Ivan Browne will meet government officials on Monday morning to discuss the latest coronavirus testing data.
However Sir Peter has played down suggestions of a local lockdown, seemingly confirmed by home secretary Priti Patel over the weekend, while criticising the data he has received from government.
The Labour mayor told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday: “Frankly it’s been intensely frustrating.
“It was only last Thursday that we finally got some of the data we need but we’re still not getting all of it and it was only at 1.04am this morning that the recommendations for Leicester arrived in my inbox.
“What they’re suggesting is not a return to lockdown, it seems that what they’re suggesting is that we continue the present level of restriction for a further two weeks beyond 4 July.
“I’ve looked at this report and frankly it’s obviously been cobbled together very hastily.
“It’s superficial and its description of Leicester is inaccurate and certainly it does not provide us with the information we need if we are to remain restricted for two weeks longer than the rest of the country.”
Sir Peter described the information in the government report as “at best partial” and said it seemed to suggest the rise in cases could in fact be attributed to increased testing.
The city’s public health director said the information the council had received had been “challenging all the way through this”.
Mr Browne added: “I think as director of public health we have really been pushing for some time to ask for as complete a data set as possible because that’s how we can really effectively start to challenge these things on the ground.”
He said the cases appeared to mostly be among younger working-age people, predominantly in the east part of the city.
However he admitted the council had not received the full details of those who had been tested, such as who they are and where they live.
Asked about reports that the cases could be linked to the food processing industry, Mr Browne told the Today programme: “I don’t think at the moment we are seeing a single source or a single smoking gun on this so we need to really try to dig down and find out what is going on and it’s likely to be a combination of factors.”
Claudia Webbe, Labour MP for Leicester East, has said she believes a local lockdown is necessary for her constituency because of “significant levels of African and Asian minority ethnic communities” and “significant levels of poverty”.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, she said: “There are significant worries and significant problems in terms of inequalities and high levels of poverty that I’m concerned about.
“That is the context in which this Covid-19 is operating in. So I’m very concerned, and I really do believe that, where the data allows, we need to ensure we engage in processes to protect lives, and I think we need to go into therefore more localised lockdown to protect lives and ensure that we can address this virus.”
She added: “The government hasn’t reassured us. Thus far, the messages and the communication from the government have been unclear, and it has been difficult, and I really don’t understand what communities are meant to follow.”
Additional reporting by Press Association.
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