The leader of Harborough council has slammed the Mayor of Leicester for saying people could drive from the locked down city to Market Harborough to have a pint.
Cllr Phil King reacted furiously after Sir Peter Soulsby, 71, made the highly provocative suggestion in an interview with The Times.
The Labour Mayor and former Labour MP spoke as the Government dramatically intervened on Monday night to impose a tough new lockdown in Leicester.
Sir Peter told The Times that if people living in Leicester wanted to go to a pub “people could drive to Market Harborough, or visit a friend in Birmingham to have their hair cut”.
Asked if he thought many would, the senior local politician replied: “It depends on how long the restrictions are extended, but it won’t be long before people think, ‘I’m going’.”
Today Cllr King, who leads Harborough District Council, told the Harborough Mail: “This is totally shocking.
“The Mayor’s comments are very unwelcome and very unhelpful.
“What is he thinking?”
The Conservative council chief stressed: “These remarks are immensely disappointing.
“I would have expected much better from the city’s mayor.
“To suggest that people in Leicester amid this new lockdown can just drive to Market Harborough and other parts of the country to drink or get their hair cut is scandalous.
“The Mayor should be coming out and saying the opposite in fact.
“He should be telling people in Leicester to adhere to new lockdown rules – not encouraging them to leave the city and travel to Market Harborough.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is effectively cordoning off Leicester after the city’s suffered a staggering 866 new cases of coronavirus since the middle of June.
“The last thing we want is this new crackdown being imposed here in Harborough too.
“But it could be – and more people will die – if people in Leicester infected with Covid-19 travel all over our district and throughout the county,” insisted Cllr King.
“I do know that as the leader of a district council adjacent to Leicester City Council we have had no communication about any of this until this morning.
“I am absolutely furious about that.
“We have been trying to raise communications with local health authorities for weeks – and this needs to be improved now.
“I have no desire for this Covid-19 crisis to unfold here in Harborough.
“There are six to 10 new coronavirus admissions every day to hospitals in Leicester.
“If this crisis continues at the current rate or accelerates then the city’s health services will be very quickly overwhelmed.
“We have to get this pandemic sorted out now.
“And if Sir Peter Soulsby can’t deal with it then it’s time for him to hang his hat up.
“We are talking about only essential travel in and out of Leicester for the time being.
“I am expecting the enforcement authority, the police, to deal with this appropriately.
“If people drive out of Leicester to Great Glen, Scraptoft, Kibworth and Market Harborough we will see the virus begin to spread here.
“The city mayor needs to get a handle on this now and get a grip.”
Cllr Phil Knowles, who leads the Liberal Democrat opposition on Harborough council, told the Mail today: “I was astounded when I read the Mayor’s comments in The Times today.
“This is the last thing that people in Leicester should be doing, coming to Market Harborough for a pint.
“Public safety here has to come first.
“My message to people in Leicester is straightforward – stay safe and stay home.”
The veteran Market Harborough health campaigner said he still wants key questions over the new Leicester crackdown answering.
“I want to know how this lockdown is going to be enforced.
“Our communities in Harborough in and around Leicester are desperately concerned,” said Cllr Knowles.
“We need to understand how the Government is going to sort out this coronavirus crisis in Leicester for all our sakes.
“But I can’t believe that Sir Peter Soulsby has actually named Market Harborough as a place that people in the city can visit.
“We are talking about people’s lives at stake here.
“This is a killer virus – we could end up with over 70,000 deaths in the UK.
“This is the most terrifying peacetime crisis we have ever faced.
“And all it would take is one ‘super carrier’ travelling here from Leicester to spark a new Covid-19 spike here in Harborough as well as in the city.”
Sir Peter Soulsby has been approached for a comment.
At the moment none of Harborough district is included in the Government’s new Leicester lockdown.
Areas of Leicestershire included in the localised lockdown are:
IN BLABY DISTRICT:
Braunstone Town (including Fosse Park)
Leicester Forest East (East of the M1)
All areas of Oadby and Wigston.
Leicestershire County Council’s said it’s “working on a postcode checker for those who live on the borders and are unsure”.
Cllr Nick Rushton, the county council’s leader, said: “Protecting residents is our main concern and we’re working closely with Leicester City Council and the Government to bring down the number of cases.
“Clearly coronavirus does not adhere to lines on a map. “And although county rates are below the national and regional averages, we can’t be complacent and it makes sense to step up restrictions in areas closer to the city.
“This is the first localised lockdown on this scale and undoubtedly there will be issues to iron out.
“I understand this is disappointing news for residents, parents of schoolchildren and businesses when most of the country is opening back up but it’s crucial that people follow the latest advice.”
He added: “Observing social distancing, handwashing, wearing a face mask where required and getting tested if you have symptoms remain vital.
“Our actions play a key role in shaping what happens next and I encourage people to heed the advice and play their part in helping to save lives and livelihoods.”