THE lockdown in Leicester is expected to be extended amid fears the city still has a higher coronavirus infection rate than anywhere else in the country.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock met Leicester Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby yesterday to discuss the measures.
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A decision on whether to extend the lockdown for another fortnight is expected to be made on Saturday.
Mr Hancock told the House of Commons today they would look at 14 days worth of information on case numbers in Leicester on Thursday – and make an announcement about changes as soon as possible.
He said: “We’ll look at (case data) on Thursday of this week and make a public announcement as soon as is reasonably possible about whether and any changes can be made to the situation in Leicester.”
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said a lockdown exit plan for the city depends on value judgments by public health professionals on when coronavirus rates are “consistently and obviously” falling.
Mr Van-Tam told the BBC that data published on Saturday showed the city is “really quite an outlier” compared with anywhere else in the country.
The latest figures for Leicester show a seven-day rate of 126 cases per 100,000 people, compared with figures of 17.8 for Leicestershire as a whole, 9.3 in Derby and 5.4 in Nottingham.
Mr Van-Tam told the BBC: “The situation has improved but it needs to go further.”
He said that, while it would not be his decision to end the lockdown, doing so “can’t be rushed”.
Pressed on whether Leicester’s lockdown is likely to be lifted, Mr Van-Tam said: “With any of these things, usually the way that one approaches them from a public health perspective is to take a phased approach.
“Normally you don’t just go from having the brakes on heavily to just taking the brakes off completely.
“I think that’s a reasonable expectation to set.”
Leicester became the first place in the country to have tight restrictions reimposed on June 30, after a spike in Covid-19 infections.
Shocking reports found sweat shops churning out cheap clothes for popular brands like Boohoo contributed to the coronavirus spike in Leicester.
The lockdown covers the city of Leicester as well as surrounding areas including Birstall, Beaumont Leys, Glenfield and South Wigston.
Its bars, restaurants and hairdressers therefore did not open on July 4 in line with the rest of the country, while shops that had started to reopen were ordered to shut again.
Mayor Sir Peter argued the lockdown of the city was “not justified” after it was found there were only a “couple of areas” of Leicester that have got a high level of infection.
He told the BBC that, having “finally” been provided with “useful data”, it was known that around 10 per cent of the city has recorded a higher transmission of Covid-19.
He said: “If we had known that weeks ago, we could’ve actually dealt with it at that time and prevented this lockdown.
“It’s very clear, when you look at the data, that it’s a couple of areas of the city that have got a higher than the average transmission of the virus, and certainly the way in which the city has been locked down in its entirety, and indeed beyond our boundary, is not justified.”
He added: “Even now we’re getting it (the data), it doesn’t have some of the vital stuff that we need, particularly in a city like Leicester.
“We need to know the ethnicity of the people who are being tested, we need to know where they are working. There’s been all this talk about perhaps it’s passed on in factories, but we have no way of knowing that.”
Asked if he hoped the lockdown restrictions would be lifted soon, he said: “I very much hope so, yes.”
It comes as Mr Hancock revealed flare-ups are being “swiftly and silently” dealt with.
He said more than 100 “local actions” are being taken across the country each week.
The Health Secretary said increased testing means officials can take a more targeted approach rather than imposing national measures.
His comments come after 73 cases of the virus were confirmed at a farm in Herefordshire, leading to around 200 workers being quarantined.