Coronavirus: Leicester lockdown 'risks creating uncertainty and disorder', scientists warn

July 02, 2020

The lockdown in Leicester was imposed too late and "risks creating uncertainty, dissent and even disorder", a group of scientists has warned.

Independent SAGE - a rival group that is separate to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies which advises Downing Street - described the local lockdown as a "foreseeable crisis of the government's own making".

It said the situation in Leicester was "both predictable and avoidable" and that it expected to see "spikes" of infection in other towns and cities.

The group said the Leicester coronavirus outbreak was a consequence of "the premature lifting of lockdown restrictions at a time when the virus is still circulating widely in some areas" and the lack of a functioning test, trace and isolate system in place.

The experts also criticised the prime minister's "implied message" that things are "back to normal" and his "whack-a-mole" strategy which they said was "imposed on the locality, rather than being developed and implemented with the locality".

A strongly worded statement added: "In the case of Leicester, and for future such cases, we advocate a response that is led by local government, supported by agencies such as PHE health protection teams, the NHS and the police and with additional funding from central government.

"The imposition of local restrictions should only be considered in the context of such an overall package of support, they should only be a last resort and used as a temporary measure.

"Such an approach will maximise both the efficacy of infection control measures and public support for these measures."

Leicester was forced back into a stricter lockdown on Tuesday after a spike in local cases, with 10% of all COVID-19 cases in the country over the past week coming from the city.

Unlike the rest of England, pubs, restaurants, cafes and hair salons in Leicester will not be allowed to reopen on Saturday, with people advised against all but essential travel.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on Wednesday accused Boris Johnson of being slow to respond to the Leicester outbreak.

He said Health Secretary Matt Hancock had publicly acknowledged an outbreak in the city on 18 June, but the lockdown was not announced until Monday, 11 days later.

The PM insisted the government response was swift from 8 June as "we could see that there was an issue there" and mobile testing units were deployed.

The Independent SAGE group's chairman is the former government chief scientific adviser Sir David King, who last week warned it was "extraordinarily risky" to further lift lockdown measures.

"If we move too quickly, which is what I think is being proposed here, the risk of running into a second wave becomes very significant," Sir David told Sky News.

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"We have done such a good job in this country. We the public. In staying at home. If we could only be a little more patient. I don't think there's anyone who can believe from the scientific point of view that this a wise move."

When the PM announced the lockdown changes from 4 July, England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, warned they were not "risk free" and that he would be "surprised and delighted" if the current situation was over by the winter.

Prof Whitty and the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, both at the time declined to say they personally supported the easing of measures in England.

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