Boris Johnson is to face a fresh grilling over the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic amid confusion over the reimposition of lockdown controls in Leicester.
One hundred days after restrictions came into force across the country, ministers are facing questions over whether they were too slow to act following a flare up in the east Midlands city.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer – who faces Mr Johnson in the Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions – has said people in Leicester were “crying out” for answers and suggested the Government should have moved quicker.
Meanwhile, the British Medical Association (BMA) said the Government needs be “more open and transparent with local Covid-19 data” and over how spikes will be dealt with in future.
‘Whack a mole’ strategy
Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby criticised the Government and Public Health England (PHE) for delays in sharing case and testing data which showed how the disease was spreading.
And Chaand Nagpaul, council chairman at the BMA, said: “The Prime Minister has talked about a ‘whack a mole’ strategy to tackle local outbreaks, but this is no use if the people leading the response on the ground – be they public health teams or local leaders – are not given the most accurate up-to-date data possible.
“This is crucial to allow swift action and to protect lives and the health service, and something that is not happening right now.”
Sir Chris Ham, former chief executive of the King’s Fund, wrote in the British Medical Journal’s opinion section: “Even at this stage, it is not too late for the United Kingdom to align more closely with countries like Germany where regional and local leaders have played a significant role in limiting the impact of Covid-19 on the public’s health.
“Local leaders, including devolved governments and elected mayors, are much better placed than the Westminster Government to engage their communities in limiting and responding to future outbreaks.”
Mr Johnson has paid tribute to the people in the city for their “forbearance” in accepting the return of controls including the shutting of non-essential shops and the closure of schools to most children.
There was frustration, however, among businesses at having to turn away customers just as the rest of England was preparing for a further opening up with the return of pubs, restaurants and cinemas on Saturday.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government had no choice but to impose a city-wide lockdown after a series of targeted measures – including working with factories which had seen a spike in cases – failed to halt the spread.
“It was clear that we needed to take this further action,” he said following talks in Whitehall on Tuesday.
“I understand that people in Leicester have difficulties – especially when the rest of the country is having lockdown measures lifted – that they are going to be asked to stay at home for that much longer.
“But it is profoundly in the interests of people in Leicester and across the country that we get this virus under control.”