Virus Outbreak Britain
LONDON (AP) — Stores closed their doors Tuesday and schools prepared to send children home in the English city of Leicester, where the British government has imposed a local lockdown to contain a spike in coronavirus cases.
The reintroduction of restrictions on the city of 330,000 people came as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepared to outline an infrastructure investment plan to help the U.K. fix the economic devastation caused by the pandemic. Johnson planned to use a speech to set out his vision of a “New Deal,” echoing the policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that helped wrench the United States out of the Great Depression.
People in most of England will be able to drink in pubs, eat in restaurants and get a haircut when the next phase of lockdown-easing measures begins Saturday. But the government has rolled back those freedoms in Leicester, saying that the city 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of London accounted for a tenth of all new coronavirus cases in the country last week.
Shops in Leicester selling non-essential items — most things apart from food and medicines — were ordered to shut down again starting Tuesday, two weeks after they reopened. Schools, which have been gradually welcoming children back, have to send them home on Thursday and residents are being told to make only essential journeys.
“I opened my shop last week for the first time and saw an instant increase in orders and now I worry this change will go back to no orders,” said James West, who runs a design and printing company in Thurmaston, just outside Leicester.
The U.K.’s official death coronavirus death toll stands at 43,659, the worst in Europe and the third-highest in the world after the United States and Brazil. But the country’s infection rate has been falling and Britain is gradually easing lockdown restrictions that were imposed in March.
Local officials accused the U.K. government of being too slow to act in Leicester, an industrious, multicultural city with two universities and factories making shoes, clothes and potato chips. They said a rise in local infections had been evident for almost two weeks but the central government had not shared the data promptly with public health authorities in Leicester.
The city has a large South Asian community who often live in multi-generational households that can transmit the virus between family members. Britain’s ethnic minority communities have been hit especially hard in the pandemic.
There was also confusion about the borders of Leicester’s new lockdown area.
“As yet the government has not announced what it accepts to be the boundary of this lockdown, so policing it is going to be something of a challenge until we know what the area is to be policed,” said Leicester Mayor Peter Soulsby.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the government’s policy.
“The strategy is to allow for the opening up of the rest of the country, giving people their freedoms back where it is safe to do so,” he told Sky News. “But we also need, alongside that, to take local action where there is a specific flare-up.”