Pubs, restaurants and hairdressers in Leicester may be forced to stay closed for two more weeks after a rise in coronavirus cases, the city’s mayor has suggested.
Sir Peter Soulsby spoke to Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Monday afternoon, and told the PA News Agency afterwards that the Government was still “minded to extend the current level of restrictions for two weeks”.
The Labour mayor said he “remains sceptical” and his discussion with Mr Hancock “took matters no further” than the Public Health England (PHE) report he received in the early hours of Monday.
Sir Peter earlier heavily criticised the Government over its handling of the situation in the city, saying he needed to “be convinced” an extension to lockdown was necessary.
He said the PHE report had been “cobbled together” and “readily acknowledges” cases are higher in Leicester due to higher levels of testing in the city.
The report said current restrictions in place across England should be extended in Leicester for a further two weeks, he said.
This means pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, outdoor playgrounds and other areas would need to stay closed and not reopen as planned on July 4.
Leicester has recorded 866 new cases of coronavirus in the last two weeks, leading to speculation over the weekend that the city would be locked down.
The report’s recommendations “are about extending the restrictions for a further two weeks, but what we still don’t have – whether it’s lockdown or restrictions – is why on earth you would do it and why you would do it here in Leicester,” he told PA.
“It’s very unclear what difference they would make and why you would do it, how it would possibly make any difference.
“If the virus is out of control or is spreading with the restrictions, I can’t see how extending them for a further two weeks would make any difference to that.”
Sir Peter condemned briefings made to the media by Government officials over the weekend about a possible city lockdown, and said it was unclear who would have the power to impose further restrictions on the city.
Asked earlier on Sky News if he was prepared to continue lockdown for two more weeks, Sir Peter said: “I’m saying we need to be convinced there is a case for doing that.”
Asked if he believed pubs and restaurants would reopen on July 4 in the city, he said: “That is what is happening across England on Saturday the 4th of July and they will, I expect – unless we get instructions to the contrary – be happening here, as they ought to be along with the rest of England.”
Earlier, Sir Peter said there had been “incredible frustration” in getting figures out of the Government “after weeks of asking”.
He told the BBC: “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.”
Leicester public health director Ivan Browne was also critical of the level of information given to the city to tackle the outbreak.
“Interestingly it’s very much around the younger working-age population and predominantly towards the east part of our city,” he said.
“I don’t think at the moment we’re seeing a single cause or a single smoking gun on this, so we need really try to dig down and find out what is going on and it’s likely to be a combination of factors.
“Information has been challenging all the way through this.”
On Sunday, Home Secretary Priti Patel, in interviews with broadcasters, appeared to confirm Leicester would be locked down.
But Jonathan Ashworth, shadow health secretary and Leicester South MP, said Ms Patel had “got slightly in a muddle” about a possible lockdown.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, speaking on Monday, said the Government was “concerned about Leicester”.
On a visit to a construction site in west London, the Prime Minister said: “We are concerned about Leicester, we are concerned about any local outbreak.
“I want to stress to people that we are not out of the woods yet. We are making these cautious, calibrated steps, we are opening as much of hospitality as we can on July 4, opening as much of the economy as we can – some things, alas, still remain closed until they can become Covid-secure.
“But to make all that possible we have to remain vigilant.”
He said a “whack-a-mole” strategy to contain local outbreaks had worked in Weston-super-Mare and where there had been outbreaks around GP surgeries in London.
“That’s the same approach that we will bring to bear in Leicester as well,” he said.
He said he had spoken to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, adding: “I don’t believe a local lockdown in Leicester is about to be proposed.”
Speaking to the newly launched Times Radio earlier on Monday, Mr Johnson said the coronavirus pandemic had been an “absolute nightmare” and a “disaster” for the country.
“This has been a disaster, let’s not mince our words, this has been an absolute nightmare for the country,” he said.
“The country has gone through a profound shock. But in those moments you have the opportunity to change and to do things better.
“We really want to build back better, to do things differently, to invest in infrastructure, transport, broadband – you name it.”
He said there will be “some bumpy times” ahead but the UK will get through the economic fallout, adding that people “instinctively” knew it would be tough.