Boris Johnson denies ‘11-day delay’ in bringing in Leicester local lockdown during clash at PMQs

1 July 2020, 12:29 | Updated: 1 July 2020, 12:56

EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has questioned "why was the Government so slow to act" to implement a lockdown in Leicester after it knew of a spike in virus cases.

During Prime Minister's Questions Sir Keir told the Commons: "At the daily press conference on June 18 the Health Secretary said 'there's an outbreak of Covid-19 right now in parts of Leicester'.

"Yet it was only on Monday evening this week that the Government introduced restrictions.

"That's a delay of 11 days during which the virus was spreading in Leicester.

"Why was the Government so slow to act?"

Read more: Government will change law to enforce local lockdown in Leicester

The Labour leader was speaking the day after it was announced the east Midlands city of Leicester would have to go into a local lockdown due to a spike in Covid-19 cases in the area.

It comes as the rest of England prepares to ease restrictions on pubs and restaurants from Saturday - and on the day Boris Johnson sets out a multi-billion pound plan for Britain to recover from the pandemic.

Read more: What is a local lockdown and how do they work?

The move is part of what Boris Johnson has called his "whack-a-mole strategy" which cracks down on local flare-ups.

The Labour leader questioned the PM in the Commons
The Labour leader questioned the PM in the Commons. Picture: PA

Prime Minister Boris Johnson hit back at Sir Keir's claims and said his Government has "acted decisively" and "put on the brakes" in Leicester.

Read more: Sadiq Khan raises questions over local lockdown for London amid rise in cases in capital

He told MPs in the Commons: "Actually the Government first took notice and acted that was going on in Leicester on June 8 because we could see there was an issue there.

"We sent mobile testing units shortly thereafter.

"We engaged actively with the authorities in Leicester, with public health in Leicester, with everyone responsible in Leicester, in the way we have done with other areas that have had similar issues.

Read more: Coronavirus: Leicester local lockdown - what is closing down, why and where?

"Unfortunately in Leicester, it did not prove possible to get the results that we have seen elsewhere so on Monday we took the decision, which I hope the right honourable gentleman approves of, to go into lockdown in Leicester.

"Because I have been absolutely clear with the House and with the country we are going forward, we have made huge progress but where necessary we will put on the breaks. We acted decisively and I think it was the right thing to do."

However, Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby suggested the new lockdown in the city should have been brought in much sooner, as shops there closed on Tuesday and schools must shut from Thursday.

He said: "The Secretary of State (Matt Hancock) announced that he believed there was an outbreak in Leicester the best part of two weeks ago.

"Since then, we've been struggling to get information from them (the Government) about what data they had, what led them to believe there was a particular problem here, and struggling to get them to keep the level of testing in Leicester."

He added he has been trying "for weeks" to access data on the level of testing in the city and was only given access last Thursday.

When asked whether a local lockdown should have been brought in earlier, he said: "If as seems to be the case, the figures suggest there are issues in the city, I would wish that they had shared that with us right from the start, and 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."

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