The Health Secretary has suggested the local lockdown in Leicester will be enforced by the police and the good will of local people.
Matt Hancock said there had been a high number of cases in children in the Midlands city and that that people will be told not to travel in or out.
Local schools and non-essential shops are closing, as the areas becomes the first in the country to be placed under a local lockdown, ahead of an easing of restrictions in England on Saturday.
Explaining that the government will change the law to enforce the move ‘if necessary’, Mr Hancock told Sky News: ‘We will be bringing forward a legal change very shortly, in the next couple of days, because some of the measures that we’ve unfortunately had to take in Leicester will require legal underpinning.’
He said ‘in some cases’ the lockdown would be enforced by the police and when pressed on how people would be stopped from travelling outside the city, he said: ‘We’re recommending against all but essential travel both to and from and within Leicester, and as we saw during the peak, the vast majority of people will abide by these rules.
‘Of course we will take further action including putting in place laws if that is necessary but I very much hope it won’t be.’
Mr Hancock said that the move in Leicester was being introduced after ‘targeted action’ had not worked – with extra testing units ‘measures’ in factories and workplaces failing to stop the outbreak.
He also said there was an ‘unusually high’ incidence of coronavirus in children in Leicester.
Mr Hancock added: ‘We have sent in a lot of extra testing into Leicester over the last 10 days or so and one of the things we have found is that there are under 18s who have tested positive and therefore, because children can transmit the disease – even though they are highly unlikely to get ill from the disease – we think the safest thing to do is close the schools.’
But with Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils he insisted: ‘Our recommendation to people right across the country is that if your child is in Reception or Year 1 or Year 6 then you really should send them to school.
‘Right across the country – including in Leicester – it is safe for your child to go to school and in the rest of the country, where the number of cases is so much lower, then it is safe for the community.’
He told BBC Breakfast that work was still being done to understand why Leicester had been so badly affected by the outbreak.
When asked about possible causes such as poverty, higher ethnic diversity, language difficulties and higher-density housing Mr Hancock said they were ‘familiar’ to him.
Mr Hancock said that ‘of course’ the Government was looking at similar places but said the outbreak in the city was ‘very significantly worse’ than the next worst hit place.
The Government’s approach in Leicester has been criticised from some quarters.
The city’s Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, told Sky News: ‘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.’
Health minister Nadine Dorries tweeted: ‘Leicester boundary decision will be taken by local council leaders working with (Department of Health) and others on the ground who know Leicester street by street – using infection rate information provided by the centre.
‘This is the essence of how local outbreak management plans will work.’
Former Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the lockdown is a ‘necessary puncturing of the elation that had been building up throughout the country’ in the run-up to the easing of restrictions on Saturday.
Now the chairman of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, Mr Hunt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the easing of restrictions would be a ‘stop, go’ process until there is a vaccine and that the country may have to go into reverse.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the Government’s ‘whack-a-mole’ strategy for tackling outbreaks, insisting that it had not been too slow to act despite knowing about the issue for 11 days.
Asked whether there would be financial assistance targeted to Leicester because of the lockdown, Matt Hancock said: “The furlough scheme remains and is there, but we’ve also put in money to the local councils so that on a discretionary basis they can use that to support people who need further support.”
He also confirmed that a football match between Leicester City and Crystal Palace would go ahead this weekend.
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