While it may feel like we're on the downward slope with coronavirus these days, the government and health officials have continually warned us that 'local lockdowns', put in place to deal with local outbreaks of the virus, are a very real possibility in the future.
And Leicester is now officially the first UK city to enter into a local lockdown, following a surge of coronavirus cases in the area.
It follows the news that a further 36 areas in the UK may also be go back into lockdown, due to a rise in cases.
Leicester lockdown: why has the city gone back in to lockdown?
The city of Leicester is the UK’s first local lockdown area. The measures are being implemented as the city has seen a spike in coronavirus cases recently.
According to reports, Public Health England figures show that Leicester has had around 2,987 confirmed coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic back in March. However, of these, 866 are believed to have occurred in the last two weeks – suggesting a local spike.
It’s reported by the BBC that the cases are mostly thought to be among younger people of working age, to the east of the city.
The city’s mayor Sir Peter Soulsby explained that while the measures are tight, he is keen to ensure they don’t go on longer than they need to.
He said, “These measures are stricter than we anticipated but we understand the need for firm action. I am determined that we will make this work and to minimise the time these additional measures need to be in place in the city.”
So what does a local lockdown actually look like – and how it is being put into place around Leicester?
What does local lockdown mean?
A full local lockdown for Leicester has now been ordered by the government – making it the first city in the UK to return to stricter measures.
Yesterday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that non-essential shops in the area would be shut today (Tuesday), and schools will close for most pupils on Thursday.
He also explained that the loosening of restrictions due to take place on 4th July across England – the reopening of pubs, restaurants and some other venues such as hairdressers – will not be happening in Leicester. It is not yet known when these places will be able to reopen in Leicester.
Matt Hancock revealed that the local lockdown was happening because 10% of all positive coronavirus cases across the UK had been found in Leicester in the past week.
He also suggested that the area was returning to the ‘Stay Home’ orders, stating, “We recommend to people in Leicester, stay at home as much as you can, and we recommend against all but essential travel to, from and within Leicester.”
The local lockdown will remain in place in Leicester for at least two weeks, with a review at the end of the two weeks.
Despite the lockdown, the city’s mayor has argued that said local officials in Leicester don’t have all the information they need to maintain the lockdown, nor the powers to enforce it if people break the rules.
But, Matt Hancock did reassure that police would have the powers to enforce the rules if they were being broken.
In order to cope with the delayed opening of some businesses, the government also announced that the city would receive extra funding and support in order to ride out the extended lockdown. Mass testing is also being put in place, with a walk-in test centre being set up.
Which parts of Leicester will be locked down?
There has been some confusion since the lockdown launched over which areas the new rules actually apply to.
In order to provide some clarification, Leicester County Council put together a map displaying the areas the local lockdown applies to.
It includes all areas in Oadby and Wigston, as well as Braunstone town and Birstall.
Nick Rushton, leader of the Leicestershire County Council, commented on the announcement of the local lockdown.
He said, “Clearly coronavirus does not adhere to lines on a map. And although county rates are below the national and regional averages, we can’t be complacent and it makes sense to step up restrictions in areas closer to the city.”
How will local lockdowns work in the future and which cities could be next?
So far in the UK, we’ve mostly seen local lockdowns only in the form of specific locations or businesses.
For example, there have been various outbreaks in meat factories across the country – such as in Anglesey in Wales. To deal with these, the factories were shut down, and all workers were told to immediately self-isolate and get a Covid-19 test.
However, with the news of Leicester’s lockdown, it seems that entire areas will be locked down in the future if they see a spike in coronavirus cases. Judging by the announcement on Leicester, local lockdowns will mean areas opening at a slower rate to the rest of the country, and a return to some tighter restrictions, that we originally saw earlier in the course of the pandemic.
However, local MPs have questioned how this approach would work in practise though, and how it would be enforced.
The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said in May that local lockdowns could be a ‘recipe for chaos’.
He said, “It raises very real challenges with regard to the enforceability of any local lockdown, and indeed the fairness of having one community locked down or even partially locked down, next door to another which is not, and the tensions that may arise from a situation like that.
Earlier on in the pandemic, Health Secretary Matt Hancock explained that local lockdowns would be a part of the government’s test and trace scheme, saying, “we will have local lockdowns in future where there are flare-ups.”
It’s also stated that some other areas of the UK could be at risk of being placed under a local lockdown, as cases there are rising – some slowly, but other more quickly.
The Mirror reports that areas including Doncaster, Harrow, Kensington and Chelsea, Plymouth and Slough have seen a spike in Covid-19 cases – meaning they could be locked down in future like Leicester.
The Department of Health have revealed that as of Saturday, there are 1,303 cases in Derbyshire, outside of the city – which is a rise of 31 in a day, for example.