Britain reimposes lockdown on English city of Leicester after coronavirus spike
Stores closed their doors Tuesday and schools prepared to send children home in the English city of Leicester, where the British government has reimposed a lockdown to contain a spike in coronavirus cases.
The reintroduction of restrictions on the city of 330,000 people came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepared to outline an infrastructure investment plan to help counter the economic devastation caused by the pandemic. Johnson planned to use a speech Tuesday to set out his vision of a “New Deal,” in a deliberate echo of 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 freedoms in Leicester, saying that the city 100 miles north of London accounted for a tenth of all new coronavirus cases in the country last week.
Shops in Leicester selling nonessential items — most things apart from food and medicine — 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 lockdown in Leicester will be reviewed in two weeks.
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Britain’s official COVID-19 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 coronavirus lockdown restrictions that were imposed in March.
Local officials accused Johnson’s administration of being too slow to act in Leicester, an industrial, multicultural city with two universities and factories making shoes, clothes and potato chips. The city made international headlines in 2013 when the remains of King Richard III were discovered in a parking lot more than 500 years after his death.
The officials said that a rise in local infections had been evident for almost two weeks but that the central government had not shared the data promptly with public health authorities in Leicester.
The city has a large South Asian community whose members often live in multigenerational households that can transmit the virus between family members. As in the U.S., ethnic minority communities in Britain have been hit especially hard by the pandemic.
Britain’s ethnic minorities, including a number of healthcare workers, are disproportionately represented in the nation’s coronavirus death toll.
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.”
Hancock had told lawmakers late Monday that “local action like this is an important tool in our armory to deal with outbreaks while we get the country back on its feet.”