LONDON (AP) — Residents of the central English city of Leicester waited Monday to hear whether lockdown restrictions will persist for their area for two weeks longer following a spike in coronavirus infections.
Leicester has recorded 866 new coronavirus cases in the two weeks up to June 23, or nearly a third of its total through the pandemic. That prompted Home Secretary Priti Patel to indicate over the weekend that the city would face a local lockdown in a bid to get the outbreak under control. It would be the first time a U.K. city faced a local lockdown.
At the very least, there are indications that the government wants the current restrictions to remain in place for Leicester for two weeks beyond Saturday, when pubs and restaurants, among others, will be allowed to reopen in England for the first time in more than three months.
“We are concerned about Leicester, we are concerned about any local outbreak,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday while on a visit to a construction site in London. “I want to stress to people that we are not out of the woods yet.”
The U.K. has recorded more than 43,600 deaths, the highest by far in Europe. The government, which sets the coronavirus response for England, has said it won’t hesitate to reimpose lockdown restrictions on a specific region in the event of a local outbreak.
Leicester’s mayor, Peter Soulsby, said a document sent to him by the British government early Monday indicated the city of 330,000 will continue with “the present level of restriction for a further two weeks beyond July 4.”
He said he’s yet to be persuaded that the city is faring any worse than other places in England, and sharply criticized the British government over its handling of the situation.
Soulsby said he will tell Health Secretary Matt Hancock later Monday that there is “no reason to pick on Leicester, on our economy, on our businesses.”
Soulsby said the Public Health England report sent to him overnight had been “cobbled together” and “readily acknowledges” that cases are higher in Leicester due to higher levels of testing.
“If the virus is out of control or is spreading with the restrictions, I can’t see how extending them for a further two weeks would make any difference,” Soulsby said.
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