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Coronavirus Leicester: Officials struggled to keep testers in city, mayor says as lockdown extended locally

City first to extend restrictions after spike in cases

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 30 June 2020 20:42 BST
A woman wearing a PPE mask walks past social distance advisory signs in Leicester's North Evington neighbourhood on June 29, 2020 in Leicester, England.
A woman wearing a PPE mask walks past social distance advisory signs in Leicester's North Evington neighbourhood on June 29, 2020 in Leicester, England. (Getty)

The mayor of Leicester has said officials struggled to persuade testing staff to stick around despite a major coronavirus outbreak in the city.

Sir Peter Soulsby said testing had been “pretty patchy” and “not sufficiently systematic” to allow local public health experts to get a proper picture of the outbreak, which has prompted the first localised lockdown in England.

Sir Peter, a former Labour MP, claimed officials had spent time trying to persuade testing staff to stay in Leicester rather than “decamp to go and measure elsewhere”.

Health secretary Matt Hancock announced on Monday that a localised lockdown was necessary in the area after targeted measures applied over the past 11 days failed to stem the spread of cases.

Mr Hancock said Leicester had seen 10 per cent of all positive cases in England over the past week and the seven-day infection rate was 135 cases per 100,000 – three times that of the next highest city.

Under the new measures, non-essential shops will close while schools will shut their doors to most pupils from Thursday. The planned reopening of pubs and restaurants will not take place on Saturday.

It comes as Boris Johnson warned that the dangers of coronavirus “have not gone away” and the virus was still “circling like a shark in water”.

Sir Peter said testing was finally increasing in Leicester but expressed concern that local leaders had been slow to receive information from government.

Soldiers from the royal logistics corp operate a mobile coronavirus testing site at Evington Leisure Centre on Monday in Leicester (Getty)

He told a press conference: “We were promised more testing and it has gradually increased over the intervening period, although Ivan [Browne, Leicester’s director of public health] and his colleagues have had to spend quite a lot of time persuading the people actually on the ground doing the testing that the secretary of state said they should stay in Leicester and they wouldn’t do, as some of them on occasions were seeking to do, decamp to go and to measure elsewhere.”

He said he was very concerned about the impact of lockdown on the “wellbeing of the city” and called for further support to bolster the local economy.

“One of the things we’ve been stressing to the government over recent times is that if Leicester is to be locked down and its economy put in limbo for a little longer, we will need support that was given earlier in the pandemic, throughout the UK, restored here in Leicester,” he said.

Sir Peter also said he had not received data on whether sweatshop factories in the east of the city had seen “hotspots” for the virus.

He said there was an issue with “illegal manufacturers” in Leicester but added: “There’s nothing we’ve seen that it [the spread of coronavirus] could be associated with them.”

He urged the public to “stick together, stay strong, stay safe and for the time being stay home”.

It comes as it emerged the number of reported cases of coronavirus in Leicester were higher than figures published by the government.

The most recent data, published on Monday, said there have been 1,056 cases in Leicester since the outbreak began but the city council said it had received figures showing there have been 3,216 confirmed cases.

The discrepancy appears to stem from the fact the department of health and social care reports cases confirmed in NHS and PHE labs, while the council’s total contains positive test results carried out in testing centres.

Labour accused the government of creating confusion over the implementation of a fresh lockdown in Leicester and urged Mr Hancock to hold a press conference on how the measures will work.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, who represents Leicester South, said the situation had left the public “anxious and confused”.

He 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.

“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.”

The prime minister thanked the people of Leicester for their “forbearance” and insisted the government was in “constant communication” with local leaders.

In a major speech on rebuilding the country after the pandemic, Mr Johnson said: “As we approach 4 July, I must say that the dangers – as we can see in Leicester – the dangers have not gone away.

“The virus is out there – still circling like a shark in the water. And it will take all our collective discipline and resolve to keep that virus at bay.”

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