LONDON (AP) – The British government plans to shutdown the central English city of Leicester amid a spike of COVID-19 cases – the first time a single British territory would face such an extreme measure during the pandemic .
The Sunday Times first reported that 658 new cases could be detected in the Leicester area within two days to June 16, within days of 1,648 new cases registered. Interior Minister Priti Patel acknowledged in a BBC interview on Sunday that ministers are considering the move.
“There will be support in Leicester and in fact the health secretary had contact with many of us over the weekend explaining some of the measures, the testing support and the resources that go to the local government as well,” said Patel. “With local flare-ups, it is correct that we have a localized solution.”
But Patel gave no indication of the number of people who could be affected by the local closure being discussed or whether the environment would be affected. Leicester has a city population of 330,000.
The peak comes amid fears that the disease will spread through the city’s large Asian community, often living in multi-generational households. The local outbreak underlines the disproportionate blow that the pandemic has had on British minority communities.
Britain has Europe’s worst confirmed death toll, with around 43,600 killed, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s conservative government has been heavily criticized for what is perceived as a slow, chaotic response to the pandemic.
Britain is slowly coming out of a total national shutdown imposed on March 23, with plans to further ease things early next month. That reopening plan is based on the idea that local outbreaks can be curbed by aggressive programs to detect, test and detect infected people.
Now that a test case is approaching, it becomes clear that executing such a plan may not be that easy.
Keith Neal, professor emeritus of epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said defining the closed-off area would be “one of the biggest problems,” as municipal boundaries can run right down a street.
People will be confused about who’s in the lockdown and who’s out, he said.
“Shutting down at the regional level would be seen as unfair or worse, since Leicester City has very little to do with rural Lincolnshire,” he said. “People don’t identify with their regional borders, and many wouldn’t actually know where they are.”
Local legislator Claudia Webbe accused the government of responding slowly, saying that local authorities have not received the help and information they need to attack the outbreak head-on.
“What they’ve done is give Leicester a bow and arrow to tackle a major pandemic problem,” she told the BBC. “This is ridiculous.”
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