The UK city that never came out of lockdown

Ross McGuinness
·6 min read
Leicester, Leicestershire, UK 9th Jan 2021. UK Weather. Fog. A foggy day in Leicester City Centre during the third national Coronavirus Lockdown.
A woman wearing a face mask in Leicester city centre at the beginning of England's third national lockdown in January. (PA)

It is exactly one year since the UK went into its first coronavirus lockdown.

But for one city, the past 12 months have been particularly tough.

While most areas of the country have had spells where COVID-19 restrictions have been eased, Leicester has never been out of some form of lockdown.

Read more: Lockdown anniversary - COVID cost UK economy £251bn

Families from different households in the East Midlands city have not been able to meet in each other's homes for 365 days.

On 23 March 2020, a year ago to the day, prime minister Boris Johnson announced to the nation that everyone had to stay at home.

Leicester, Leicestershire, UK 9th Jan 2021. UK Weather. Fog. A foggy day in Leicester City Centre during the third national Coronavirus Lockdown.
Leicester has been in lockdown for one year. (PA)
Members of the military at a Covid-19 testing centre in Spinney Hill Park in Leicester, after the Health Secretary Matt Hancock imposed a local lockdown following a spike in coronavirus cases in the city.
Military staff at a COVID-19 testing centre in Leicester in June after the city went into the UK's first local lockdown. (PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks with staff at a testing centre in De Montfort University in Leicester during a visit to the East Midlands.
Prime minister Boris Johnson speaks with staff at a testing centre in De Montfort University in Leicester. (PA)

Gatherings of people from different households were banned, while almost all shops were ordered shut.

"From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home," said Johnson.

“We will beat the coronavirus and we will beat it together."

Watch: Boris Johnson announced the UK's first lockdown in March 2020

It would be almost two months before Johnson announced plans for lifting the lockdown in England.

At the beginning of June, there was a phased reopening of schools, followed by non-essential shops two weeks later.

However, on 29 June, health secretary Matt Hancock announced the UK’s first localised lockdown for Leicester and several of its surrounding areas.

This meant that on 4 July, when pubs and restaurants reopened across England as part of “Super Saturday”, Leicester remained in lockdown.

People wearing masks in Leicester city centre as face coverings become mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England.
People wearing masks in Leicester city centre during the pandemic. (PA)

Non-essential shops, gyms and salons also had to close in the city.

The decision was made after Leicester City Council reported 944 positive coronavirus tests in the two weeks to 23 June, which made up about one in 16 of all UK cases at the time.

Hancock told the House of Commons: "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."

Watch: Leicester gets UK's first local lockdown

At that point, Leicester’s seven-day infection rate of 135 cases per 100,000 people was three times more than the next highest city.

Mayor of Leicester Sir Peter Soulsby questioned whether the city's lockdown should have been imposed earlier.

"If as seems to be the case, the figures suggest there are issues in the city, I wish [the government] had taken a more speedy decision,” he said.

The mini-lockdown was originally scheduled to last two weeks, pending a review.

There was some easing of Leicester's local lockdown in the summer – schools and nurseries reopened at the end of July, while pubs and restaurants followed at the start of August, the same month beauty salons and nail bars reopened.

In July, Sir Peter said the Leicester lockdown was "no longer justified".

However, by October, Leicester had experienced 100 straight days of added restrictions, and families and friends remained banned from meeting in their homes and gardens – unlike much of the rest of the country.

The second national lockdown came into force on 5 November, following on from the three-tier system, before ending on 2 December.

Door to door Covid testing is carried out in Knighton, Leicester by Leicester City Council volunteers to help increase testing in the city of Leicester after areas of the city were placed into local lockdown.
Door-to-door COVID-19 testing being carried out in Leicester. (PA)

England’s ongoing third lockdown, which was introduced in early January, means Leicester has been under tight restrictions for exactly a year.

On Tuesday, the anniversary of its lockdown, Leicester Cathedral will hold a memorial service for those who lost their lives to COVID-19. Council buildings will be lit in blue in honour of the NHS and all key workers.

Sir Peter said: “Our thoughts are with all of those who have lost family members and loved ones over the past year, and our thanks go to everyone who has worked tirelessly to care for others and keep life going.

“It has been an incredibly difficult time and we are by no means out of it yet, but we can at least now start to look forward with hope.”

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He tweeted on Tuesday: “It has been a difficult year. Marked with tragedy for many. Enormously impressed by the people of our city and the dedication of those who work and care for us.”

Liz Kendall, MP for Leicester West, told the Leicester Mercury on Tuesday: “Today offers a moment of reflection for everything people have been through over the last year. My thoughts are particularly with those who have lost their loved ones, some without even being able to say goodbye, and the key workers who have kept us going often at considerable risk to the themselves.

"Our city has been hit especially hard, being locked down for over a year. It is essential that the government does more to support us in keeping our infection rates down, getting our vaccination rates up and make sure everyone can afford to self-isolate.”

According to the latest figures, 1,416 patients at University Hospitals of Leicester who tested positive for COVID-19 have lost their lives, including 20 in the week up to 17 March.

Read more: Leicester police 'don't know' how to enforce local lockdown 

The first positive test for coronavirus in Leicester was on 11 March 2020.

According to figures from Leicester City Council, there were 555 cases in the week to 26 June, 2020, just before the local lockdown was announced.

Leicester, Leicestershire, UK 16th Jan 2021. UK. Ambulances waiting to drop patients off queue up outside the Leicester Royal Infirmary during the third Coronavirus Lockdown.
Ambulances waiting to drop patients off queue up outside the Leicester Royal Infirmary in January. (PA)

By the week ending 13 November, the weekly case number was 1,878, before a drop until the middle of December.

By the week ending 8 January, 2021, there were 2,129 cases of coronavirus.

According to government data, there were 384 new cases in the most recent seven-day period, a rate of 108.4 per 100,000 people – one of the highest in the UK.