Leicester could be the first place in England to face local lockdown measures after a rise in coronavirus cases, as the home secretary, Priti Patel, confirms more support for the city.
Around 650 people were found to have had the illness in the first two weeks of June – a quarter of all cases in the city so far. There have been outbreaks at food production facilities and so far five schools have closed.
The Department of Health and Social Care has deployed four mobile testing units to the city and made thousands of home testing kits available. The local authority is asking people to maintain a social distance of 2 metres and to wash hands regularly.
Asked on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show if Leicester would be the first place to see fresh measures applied, Priti Patel said: “That is correct. We’ve seen flare-ups across the country in recent weeks. Just in the last three or four weeks in particular.
“There was the example of a flare-up in one particular hospital over infection control.
“That is why we have a new mechanism, a Joint Biosecurity Centre, which is very much geared up and is being developed to address local flare-ups.”
“There will be support going into Leicester.”
She said the health secretary, Matt Hancock, had been in touch with cabinet ministers over the weekend to explain additional support on testing and more resources for the local authority.
She said: “With local flare-ups it’s right that we have a localised solution in terms of infection control, social distancing, testing, and many of the tools [are] actually within the Public Health England space that will come together to control the virus and stop the spread.”
The prime minister has said the government would pursue “whack-a-mole tactics” to try and curb the virus in specific places as the rest of the country comes out of lock down.
A report in the Sunday Times said the latest outbreak in Leicester follows reports of large crowds gathering outside takeaway restaurants.
Prof Keith Neal, professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said the messaging on local measures needs to be very clear.
People “inside of the lockdown need to understand why they have been included”, he suggested, as well as the exact geographical boundaries if there is to be a distinction between a specific city and region.
He said: “Urban sprawl has allowed towns and cities to expand resulting in these areas often joining other areas who identify differently and do not see themselves as part of the expanding town or city.
“Locking down at the regional level would be seen as unfair or worse as Leicester city has really very little to do with rural Lincolnshire. People do not identify with their regional boundaries and many would not actually know where they are.”
The home secretary also took aim at the recent mass gatherings, including the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and celebrations for Liverpool FC wining the Premier League, saying they should not have gone ahead because they risk the virus spreading.
“Congratulations to Liverpool for winning but, even so, fans want to celebrate but they did not need to go to the football ground and congregate outside the stadium,” she said.
“As much as people do want to be out right now, the weather is amazing, stick to the rules, follow the guidance.
“We’ve made it quite clear that six or more people … no one should be gathering with six or more people …but also when it comes to protests there are other ways people can explain their views and opinions.”
She said the Black Lives Matters protest had legitimate opinions and the government does want to “right the wrongs” but protesting right now will not help the country take control of the virus’s spread.