LONDON (AP) – Stores closed their doors Tuesday and schools were preparing to send children home in the English city of Leicester, where the British government imposed a local blockade to contain an increase in coronavirus cases.
The reintroduction of restrictions in the city of 330,000 people occurred when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepared to outline an infrastructure investment plan to help the United Kingdom repair the economic devastation caused by the pandemic. Johnson planned to use a speech to expose his vision of a "new deal", echoing President Franklin D. Roosevelt's policies that helped lift the United States out of the Great Depression.
People in most of England will be able to drink in bars, eat in restaurants and get a haircut when the next phase of blockade relief measures begins on Saturday. But the government revoked those freedoms in Leicester, saying the city 160 kilometers north of London was responsible for a tenth of all new coronavirus cases in the country last week.
Leicester stores that sold non-essential items – most things other than food and medicine – were ordered to close again from Tuesday, two weeks after the reopening. Schools, which gradually receive children back, need to send them home on Thursday and residents are being told to make only essential trips.
"I opened my store last week for the first time and saw an instant increase in orders, and now I am concerned that this change will not take orders again," said James West, manager of a design and printing company in Thurmaston, just outside of Leicester.
The official number of coronavirus deaths in the United Kingdom is 43,659, the worst in Europe and the third highest in the world, after the United States and Brazil. But the country's infection rate is falling and Britain is gradually easing the blocking restrictions imposed in March.
Local authorities have accused the UK government of being too slow to act in Leicester, an industrial and multicultural city with two universities and factories that manufacture shoes, clothes and chips. They said the increase in local infections had been evident for almost two weeks, but the central government did not immediately share the data with Leicester public health officials.
The city has a large South Asian community, which often lives in multi-generational homes that can transmit the virus among family members. Britain's ethnic minority communities have been particularly affected by the pandemic.
There was also confusion over the borders of the new Leicester blockade area.
"So far the government has not announced what it accepts to be the limit of this blockade, so policing will be a challenge until we know which area is being policed," said Leicester Mayor Peter Soulsby.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended government policy.
"The strategy is to allow the rest of the country to open up, giving people back their freedoms where it is safe to do so," he told Sky News. "But we also need, along with that, to take local action where there is a specific outbreak."