It’s the cold shower. The United Kingdom is preparing to reopen its bars, pubs, restaurants and hairdressers on Saturday, marking the end of eleven weeks of confinement. But in Leicester, right in the center of the country, the opposite happens. The government ordered the immediate and complete reconversion of the city of 350,000 inhabitants. Non-essential schools and shops that had been reopened in the past few days have to close again and people are asked to stay at home. Restructuring measures will be in place “For at least two weeks”, British Health Minister Matt Hancock said on Tuesday morning. The police will be mobilized to enforce these new measures.
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For more than a week, Leicester has seen between five and ten times more Covid-19 positive cases than in the rest of the country. The seven-day infection rate of 135 cases per 100,000 people – the benchmark in Europe – is “Three times higher in Leicester than in the city with the second highest rate”, said Matt Hancock. Every day, between six and ten people are admitted to hospitals in the city, compared to around one hospitalization per day in other regions. The city registered “10% of all positive cases in the country in the past week”, added the minister.
Signs of a resurgence of the infection had been visible for ten days, but an increase in tests and actions “Targeted and located around schools, factories and offices did not work”, added Hancock to explain the decision to order a global containment of the city and its agglomeration. He also stressed the presence of a “High impact of infections, unusual in children”, in Leicester.
Young but few symptoms
Leicester Mayor Peter Soulsby regretted that the government “Didn’t make a decision faster”. Jonathan Ashworth, in charge of health in the Labor opposition, also questioned the slow reaction of the government. “We were alerted to the situation in Leicester eleven days ago. If we, as a nation, are to gradually deconfinate, then we must respond more quickly to these hotbeds of infection. ” The reasons for this resurgence of infection have not “Been fully identified”, said Matt Hancock.
But Leicester is a city with a large immigrant Bame (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) population, around 50%, generally more affected by Covid-19. The focus seems to have been in young people who generally have few symptoms. But many of them live with elderly family members in overcrowded apartments in towns in east Leicester, where the resurgence was first observed. These neighborhoods are populated by a very large majority (sometimes more than 80%) by inhabitants of Indian or Pakistani origin, disproportionately affected by Covid-19.
Across the UK, the epidemic curves are generally declining. On Tuesday, the latest figures released by the National Statistics Office (ONS), for the first time since mid-March, revealed that no excessive deaths over an average of five years had been recorded. However, the infection rate is still high in some cities, especially in the north-east of England.
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Several voices have been raised to criticize the lack of communication between national and local authorities. The entire testing and tracing system is centralized and the data is sent directly to the National Health Service (NHS) national team. If a complex home, such as a school, prison or retirement home, is discovered, local authorities are immediately alerted. On the other hand, this is not the case for cases of isolated individuals, which poses a problem in identifying a new home, for example in a lot of buildings.
“It is high time that we have local control of local foci of infection. Because if we continue like this, in six or nine months, we will have new homes in Manchester, Birmingham and other cities ”, Bharat Pankhania, a former infectious disease control consultant for Public Health England, told BBC Radio.
“The pandemic is accelerating”
On Monday, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, had warned that the pandemic “Is not even close to being circumscribed”. “Although many countries have made some progress, overall the pandemic is actually accelerating”, he added. The bottom line is that governments “Apply the right policies” which consist of “Test, trace, isolate and place in quarantine”, he had said. “If a country claims that it is difficult to test and trace, it is an excuse that does not hold.”
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The announcement of the reconfiguration of Leicester somewhat overshadowed a grand speech by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on a massive economic recovery program. Openly inspired by the New Deal of American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, presented in 1933 to revive the American economy after the Great Depression, Boris Johnson promised an investment of 5 billion pounds (5.5 billion euros) in infrastructure projects, such as building schools, housing or rail infrastructure with a new slogan: «Build, build, build» (“Build, build, build”). If he hoped to divert attention from the mounting criticism of his government’s mismanagement of the pandemic, Johnson would have been disappointed. The first question asked was about the reconfiguration of Leicester.
Sonia Delesalle-Stolper Correspondent in London