Government criticised for taking 11 days to enforce Leicester coronavirus lockdown

People in the centre of Leicester after a lockdown was reimposed. (PA)

The government has been criticised for taking 11 days to reimpose a coronavirus lockdown in Leicester.

Health secretary Matt Hancock announced in the House of Commons on Monday evening that restrictions would return to the East Midlands city and its surrounding areas.

Non-essential shops are closed from Tuesday while schools will shut their doors to most pupils from Thursday.

People are also being told to avoid all but essential travel to, from, and within Leicester and should stay at home as much as possible.

The government has been accused of dithering in its response to the new surge of cases in Leicester, with both the city’s mayor and the Labour Party accusing it of being slow to react, saying it doesn’t bode well for any future outbreaks in other parts of the UK.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “We warned the government many times about the need to respond quickly if there is an infection spike.

“In Leicester we support what the government has done, but they have been slow about it.

“There are now lots of questions, by anxious people, businesses in Leicester about what they can do, what’s going to happen next.”

Ministers resisted pressure to hold a Downing Street press conference to address questions on the Leicester lockdown extension.

Members of the public queue at a COVID-19 testing facility in Spinney Hill Park, Leicester. (PA)

The PM’s official spokesman said there are “no current plans for that”, adding that the health secretary went to the Commons after the decision had been made and took questions then and during a media round, as did the PM following a speech in Dudley on Tuesday morning.

On Monday, after announcing the lockdown in the Commons, Hancock was questioned by shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth.

The Leicester South MP referenced prime minister Boris Johnson’s “whack-a-mole strategy” for dealing with local outbreaks.

The streets of Leicester city centre were quieter on Tuesday as it returned to lockdown. (PA)

Ashworth said: "We were alerted to the situation in Leicester 11 days ago and now we've got tonight from the secretary of state the whack-a-mole strategy.

"Doesn't he agree that if we're as a nation to ease the lockdown smoothly then those areas that do see flare-ups will need greater speed in the response, otherwise we risk no moles getting whacked?"

Ashworth said the government’s response to the surge in COVID-19 cases in Leicester had left people “anxious and confused”.

Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby suggested the new lockdown should have been brought in much sooner.

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Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Tuesday, he said: "The secretary of state announced that he believed there was an outbreak in Leicester the best part of two weeks ago.

"Since then, we've been struggling to get information from them about what data they had, what led them to believe there was a particular problem here, and struggling to get them to keep the level of testing in Leicester.

“I wish they had taken a more speedy decision rather than leaving it 11 days from the secretary of state's first announcement.

"That's a long gap, and a long time for the virus to spread."

Leicester city mayor Sir Peter Soulsby has criticised the government's response to the area's new surge in coronavirus cases. (PA)

Hancock insisted the government had not been too slow to act, saying that targeted action had not worked and so a wider lockdown was required.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Tuesday: "People knew 11 days ago because I set it out that there was an outbreak in Leicester, and we were working on it before then.

"And I'd been talking to the council and working with public health experts and Public Health England, and we've been monitoring and we've been putting in place the targeted action that has worked in other cases.

"In this case it hasn't worked over that period and so we needed to take further action which we took last night."

Hancock said there had been an "unusually high" incidence of coronavirus in children in Leicester, while the city council said that 944 new COVID-19 cases had been reported in the past two weeks.

The unsuccessful targeted action involved trying to contain the spread of coronavirus after outbreaks in factories and workplaces.

Health secretary Matt Hancock announcing the Leicester lockdown in the House of Commons on Monday. (PA)

On Tuesday, Johnson thanked the people of Leicester for their "forbearance" in dealing with the new coronavirus restrictions.

On Monday, he admitted the coronavirus crisis had been a “disaster” for the UK.

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