Mayor welcomes Leicester’s lockdown and seeks infection data

Localised Covid-19 surge taints Johnson’s news of UK infrastructural investment

Leicester's mayor has urged people to "stick together" and stay at home after the city was put back into lockdown following a surge in coronavirus cases. Peter Soulsby welcomed the government's decision to close all non-essential shops in Leicester and to postpone the opening of pubs and restaurants, which will happen elsewhere in England next Saturday.

“What we got was more wide-ranging than we’d anticipated and I’m really grateful for that,” he said.

“Because while it is a pain and a nuisance for us in the city to be subject to that level of restriction and to have the clock, as it were, turned back, it is nonetheless something that has some realistic prospect of being effective.”

The government has advised against all non-essential travel in and out of Leicester after health secretary Matt Hancock said the city's seven-day infection rate was 135 per 100,000 people. This is three times the infection rate in the next most affected places – Barnsley, Bradford and Rochdale – which have seen more than 45 cases per 100,000 people in the past week.


In a phone call with Boris Johnson on Tuesday, Sir Peter asked for more data from the testing process about the location and ethnicity of those infected.

Address and ethnicity

“In a city like Leicester, it’s important to know whether it’s particular neighbourhoods or communities being affected. Knowing the address is important, knowing the ethnicity is certainly something that may give you a clue as to how the spread has taken place, and if there is a place of work . . . Those pieces of information help us to pinpoint where the issues might be,” he said.

The Leicester lockdown overshadowed the prime minister’s speech 90km away in Dudley, where he signalled a multibillion-pound investment in new infrastructure. He promised to encourage the conversion of unused retail spaces into homes and make housebuilding easier with a major overhaul of planning rules.

“We will build fantastic new homes on brownfield sites and other areas that, with better transport and other infrastructure, could frankly be suitable and right for development and address that intergenerational injustice and help young people get on the housing ladder in the way that their parents and grandparents could,” he said.

“And it is to galvanise this whole process that this government will shortly bring forward the most radical reforms to our planning system since the end of the second World War. Yes, we will insist on beautiful and low-carbon homes, with the right space standards but Covid has taught us the cost of delay.”

May’s criticism

The prime minister would not rule out raising taxes to fund extra government spending but he declared “I am not a communist” and said people should clap for capitalists and financiers just as they did for the National Health Service.

Mr Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, on Tuesday criticised his decision to appoint Britain's chief negotiator with the EU David Frost to the role of national security adviser, serving as a political appointee rather than a civil servant. Mr Frost will succeed Mark Sedwill, who said on Sunday he would step down from his two roles as cabinet secretary and national security adviser in September.

Sir Mark's decision followed weeks of briefing against him from the prime minister's political operation in Downing Street. And it came a day after cabinet office minister Michael Gove called for a reform of the civil service that would, among other things, allow those with "proven expertise" to be promoted.

“Why, then, is the new national security adviser a political appointee, with no proven expertise in national security?” she asked Mr Gove in the House of Commons.

Mr Gove said that Mr Frost was “a distinguished diplomat in his own right” and “an adviser appropriate to the needs of the hour”.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times