LONDON (AP) – Shopkeepers pulled down the shutters, cafe owners paused reopening plans and schools were willing to send children home on Tuesday in the English city of Leicester, after the British government imposed a local shutdown to spike catch coronavirus cases.
The reintroduction of restrictions on the city of 330,000 people came when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged an exhaustion of infrastructure spending to help the UK overcome the economic devastation caused by a pandemic that remains to be overcome.
People in most of England will be able to drink in pubs, eat in restaurants and get a haircut when the next phase of the lockdown increase measures begins on Saturday. But the government reversed those freedoms in Leicester, saying the city was responsible for one-tenth of all new coronavirus cases in the country 160 kilometers north of London last week.
Stores in Leicester selling non-essential items – most things except food and medicine – had to close again two weeks after reopening. Schools, which gradually welcome children back, have to send them home on Thursday and residents are told to make only essential trips.
The lockdown, which is being revised after two weeks, came as a blow to small businesses looking forward to Saturday reopening.
“When I said I would open in July, all my appointments were fully booked, but now two more weeks – it’s going to test,” said hairdresser Cameron Hallam, who had stocked hand sanitizer, disposable coats and face shields. for his store, Cameron’s Cutz.
The official death toll in the UK is 43,730, the highest in Europe and the third highest in the world, after the United States and Brazil. But the country’s contagion rate is on the decline, and Britain is gradually easing restrictions imposed in March.
Local officials accused the British government of being too slow in Leicester, a bustling, multicultural city with two universities and factories that make shoes, clothes and chips. They said the increase in local infections had been around for almost two weeks, but the central government had not immediately shared the data with public health authorities in Leicester.
Leicester Mayor Peter Soulsby said “we have not yet been able to provide satisfactory answers” as to where the outbreak was concentrated, but that officials have begun to gather more data to compile the picture.
“Some clusters of cases have been found in some workplaces,” he said, amid reports of outbreaks in some of the city’s many clothing and food processing plants.
The outbreak has scrutinized Britain’s much-criticized response to COVID-19. Dr. Bharat Pankhania, an infectious disease expert at the University of Exeter, said Britain left the blockage prematurely, at a time when the virus is still spreading and track-and-trace systems are not robust enough.
“We don’t have the armaments or the tools we are going to use to check and identify it at an early stage,” he told The Associated Press.
Without those tools, what happened in Leicester could happen anywhere, he added.
The city has a large South Asian community that often lives in multi-generation households that can transmit the virus between family members. The British ethnic minority communities have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
But Pankhania said it was too early to know if the outbreak in this case was related to race or other factors.
“I don’t think there’s anything special about Leicester,” he said. “Time will tell. But it will happen in every big city with many people and many people in circulation. ″
The local closure is a blow to the government’s hopes for a return to normalcy. The Prime Minister thanked the people of Leicester “for their tolerance,” even though he spoke impatiently to restart the economy and society.
Johnson won the December election with a pledge to rebalance Britain’s London-dominated economy and revive long-neglected former industrial regions. Those plans were stirred up by COVID-19, which has stunted the economy and brought Britain into a deep recession.
The Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday that the UK economy shrank by more than initially between January and March, 2.2% instead of 2%. The period only covers the first week of closing.
“It may seem premature to speak to Britain now after COVID,” Johnson admitted before he did, and promised to pump billions into schools, roads, railways, and homes. He called the plan a “New Deal,” following the policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that helped lift the United States out of the Great Depression.
In a broad speech with little detail, Johnson promised that “we will build better and build greener, but also build faster.”
“The virus is out there and is still circling like a shark in the water,” Johnson acknowledged.
But Johnson said Britain should use the coronavirus crisis “to address the great unresolved challenges of this country.”
“COVID taught us the cost of delay,” he said.
Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
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