Labour demands Hancock hold press conference on Leicester lockdown

Labour has demanded that Matt Hancock hold a press conference on the Leicester lockdown today in a bid to resolve “outstanding questions” on restrictions.

In a statement issued this morning, Jonathan Ashworth warned that the Health Secretary’s update to parliament and announcement of the localised lockdown on Monday had “left people anxious and confused”.

The Shadow Health Secretary called for the government to “take firm leadership”, following calls from various Labour figures for greater support for the city in response to the localised lockdown.

Commenting on the announcement from the government, Ashworth said: “The government’s response to the situation in Leicester has left people anxious and confused.

“We support the government’s decision to reintroduce lockdown restrictions. However, there are a number of outstanding questions about how the government intends to implement these restrictions and get the outbreak back under control.

“There is confusion about essential travel and what it means for people who travel to work outside the boundaries. There is also no clarity about what extra resources will be put in place to increase testing capacity and what financial support will be available to businesses.

“The government must take firm leadership on this. This is the first local lockdown. People in Leicester – and across the country – are looking for ministers to take responsibility for this issue.

“Number 10 said the afternoon press conferences would now only take place if the government had ‘something really important to say’. We believe the situation in Leicester meets that criteria.

“That is why I am urging the Health Secretary to hold a press conference this afternoon and give the public the answers and reassurance they deserve.”

In response to the update from the Health Secretary yesterday, Ashworth had called for greater “clarity” – as well as further support through extra testing and other resources to combat the local outbreak.

The Shadow Health Secretary highlighted that the government had known about the outbreak in Leicester for 11 days, and stressed the need for “greater speed in the response, otherwise we risk no moles getting whacked”.

He asked the Secretary of State: “Doesn’t he agree that if we are as a nation to ease from lockdown smoothly, then those areas that do see flare ups will need greater response?”

Ashworth added that “Leicester is particularly at risk”, and warned the government of specific demographic vulnerabilities, such as the fact that the city has one of the highest child poverty rates in the country.

He said: “Those who are in work are often in low paid, precarious employment, our housing is overcrowded, our public services have been cut back, years of austerity has taken its toll.”

Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds told Sky News this morning that it took too long for the rise in cases to be communicated to the local authority and said that “we can’t have that lengthy delay occurring again”.

Claudia Webbe slammed the government for being “too slow to lockdown” – the Leicester East MP had been been warning of the outbreak and calling for localised lockdowns to control its spread in the days before.

She accused the government of “drip feeding the truth” over the weekend, and warned that Leicester is “a city where the minority make up the majority; thus a city where its residents are disproportionately at risk from Covid-19”.

In an interview with Sky News this morning, she said: “In the case of this scenario, the Secretary of State announced 11 days ago as you pointed out and we’re hearing 11 days on that we’re now having to use processes like lockdown.”

She expressed support for lockdown measures to “protect life”, but added that she wanted to hear more from the Secretary of State to show that the government will also “protect livelihoods as well”.

Labour mayor of Leicester Peter Soulsby said that if the city is to be treated differently in terms of the lockdown, “we also need to be treated differently in terms of the support for businesses”.

He added: “I wish they had taken a more speedy decision rather than leaving it 11 days from the secretary of state’s first announcement. That’s a long gap, and a long time for the virus to spread.”

Leicester West MP Liz Kendall tweeted that the UK must learn lessons from the situation and said that the government had been “too slow getting council even basic postcode data, which is essential to tackling the problem”.

Health Secretary Hancock told MPs last night that non-essential shops that had reopened in Leicester will close, as will most schools, and that the city will not be able to open pubs, bars and restaurants as elsewhere on Saturday.

According to the local authority, 3,216 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Leicester since the start of the epidemic. Of these, 944 cases were reported in the last two weeks.

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