Revealed: the areas that may face local Covid lockdowns ‘within days’
Health experts expect ‘a number of Leicesters’ across the UK
Leicester this week became the UK’s first city to be put under a local lockdown by the government - but experts are warning that similar measures could be enforced in several other areas in a matter of days.
Downing Street sources told The Telegraph that Bradford, Barnsley, Rochdale, Bedford and Oldham were sitting just below Leicester on a “watch-list” of sites that may face new social distancing restrictions to curb surges in coronavirus infections.
The government’s top ten also includes Rotherham, Tameside, Blackburn and Kirklees, the last of which recently reported a mini-outbreak at a meat factory.
Sources at Public Health England (PHE) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) say further local lockdowns could be implemented in “just days”, Sky News reported on Wednesday.
Newly published PHE data on the number of positive tests per 100,000 people for towns and cities shows that Leicester had 140.2 new confirmed cases in the week ending 21 June, followed by Bradford at 69.4 cases.
Announcing the Leicester lockdown on Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the city had accounted for around 10% of all positive cases in the country over the past week.
But while the rest of the UK is preparing for the next stage of easing lockdown measures, with bars and restaurants set to reopen on Saturday, infection rates are also creeping up in various areas.
“I am expecting there to be a number of Leicesters,” Professor Deenan Pillay, a virologist at UCL and member of the shadow government’s scientific advisory group, told The Guardian.
“The base level of infections going on in the UK is still much higher than it was in other countries in Europe when they started to release their lockdowns.”
In a speech on Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the virus was “circling like a shark in the water” and called for “collective discipline and resolve” to keep the threat at bay.
The PM’s intervention came amid an outcry from local health officials in Leicester, who claim they aren’t being given enough information to manage localised outbreaks.
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Meanwhile, Hancock caused panic and confusion after mixing up the Yorkshire town of Keighley with Kirklees, which is battling a local outbreak - leading Bradford council to tweet a clarification in order “to calm everyone down a bit...”
Misleading information about regional lockdowns is also circulating online, causing a headache for local councils, the BBC reports.
Local councillors have been attempting to quell fears that their communities could be forced into further weeks in isolation.
Bradford Council leader Susan Hinchliffe told Sky News that although the city had “a high number of infections along with a number of other northern authorities”, they were still “some way behind Leicester”.
Andrea Fallon, director of public health for Rochdale Borough Council, agreed that “residents should be reassured that the numbers we have seen recently are still well below those in Leicester, where lockdown measures are being reintroduced.
“In Leicester Matt Hancock said that there were 135 positive cases per 100,000, and we had 28.8, so the comparisons are misleading and unhelpful.”
The prospect of local lockdowns has also raised more questions about the disproportionate impact of the virus on ethnic minority groups.
A government report identifying the most at-risk areas of the UK “cited concerns” that several of the recorded local spikes were in areas with large BAME communities, according to Business Insider.