Leading Harborough councillors demand greater Government clarity after a political firestorm blew up in nearby Leicester

The Government has now made a climbdown as they admitted that Leicester will not face “additional restrictions”

Tuesday, 25th May 2021, 9:59 pm

Leading Harborough councillors are urgently demanding greater Government clarity after a political firestorm blew up as Leicester was declared an Indian variant hotspot.

Cllr Phil King, the leader of Harborough council, and Cllr Phil Knowles stood united as fury erupted amid claims the city was facing a new local Covid-19 lockdown through the “backdoor”.

They both hit out as the Government was slammed for initially failing to spell out new health advice urging millions of people against all but essential travel in the country’s eight hotspots.

A top Harborough councillor is imploring local people – stay clear of Indian variant hotspot Leicester unless you absolutely have to go there.

But hours later the Government made a humiliating climbdown as they admitted that Leicester will not face “additional restrictions”.

Events moved fast and the picture changed constantly as Cllr King told the Harborough Mail on Tuesday: “The Government needs to clarify their advice and guidance on hotspots like Leicester as soon as possible.

“Any confusion is extremely unhelpful and is totally counter-productive as it leads to rumour and speculation.

“We need absolute certainty and clear information on what is happening – both in Leicester and beyond,” insisted Cllr King.

“Otherwise public trust and confidence in the Government’s key Covid messages will be eroded – and that’s no good for any of us.”

The Conservative council chief spoke as the rate of coronavirus infection spiked to 55 cases per 100,000 people in Leicester – as the rate across Harborough plunged by 62 per cent in a week to just 11.7.

“Covid has not gone away – it is still very much here.

“But people have many good reasons for still going into Leicester.

“My advice to them is clear – remember to follow all the guidelines.

“The first thing I’d tell people is to get vaccinated as soon as you are invited to.

“Over 75 per cent of adults in Harborough have had their first jab and about 50 per cent have received both doses.

“That gives you much better protection against the Indian variant of the coronavirus,” said Cllr King.

“You also have to carry on maintaining the usual disciplines of wearing a face covering, washing your hands and keeping your social distance.

“Do not let your guard down.

“We all need to be cautious and exercise common sense.

“We don’t want to be putting fear and panic into residents.

“But for what ever reason parts of Leicester have a much lower vaccination rate than we do here.

“The rate of infection in Harborough had dropped to 17.1 cases per 100,000 up to Monday May 24,” said Cllr King before the latest figures emerged.

“We need to keep driving down that figure as we look ahead to the summer and start to open up again.

“I’m certainly not aware of any Indian variant cases appearing in Harborough yet – and we obviously want to keep it that way.”

Cllr Knowles, who heads up Harborough council’s Liberal Democrats, urged people to stay clear of Leicester until the Government pulled a sudden U-turn and changed direction again.

“I want to see much more clarity from the Government on Covid hotspot cities and areas such as Leicester,” said Cllr Knowles.

“We all need to know where we stand.

“People across Harborough need to know if they can still go into Leicester to work, for hospital appointments, to see their family.

“So mixed messages and confusing or conflicting advice just isn’t good enough.

“We are doing ever so well in Harborough now after a long hard fight against Covid stretching back well over a year through three tough lockdowns.

“None of us wants to wreck all our good work now – and go back to being locked down.

“We are finally winning the battle to beat this devastating virus – but we haven’t won the battle yet,” insisted the veteran health campaigner.

“There are countries all over the world who have thought they’ve beaten the coronavirus – only for it to come bouncing back.

“Covid is a terrible killer disease.

“It’s killed almost 130,000 people in the UK alone – and devastated families all over the country.

“We are getting on top of it thanks to a combination of our fantastic vaccination programme, brilliant NHS and people acting sensibly and responsibly.

“So let’s continue as we are and we will beat this awful disease.”

He issued his rallying cry as it was revealed that Leicester City Council wasn’t told by the Government that they were moving to update their travel advice for the city.

Mike Sandys, Leicestershire County Council’s director of public health, told the Mail on Tuesday: “We became aware last night (Monday) that the Government had updated its advice for Leicester and note that the City Council hadn’t been contacted by the Government or Public Health England.

“Clearly we’ll be keeping a close eye on figures.

“But given discussions with national officials, the fact that Leicester has lower variant numbers than other parts of the country and has a plan in place, we’d encourage all residents to be cautious and to stick to step three of the roadmap which came into effect on 17 May.

“The most important thing is to get your vaccine when you are offered it and come forward for your second dose.”

Step three of the Government’s roadmap came into effect on Monday May 17.

The new guidance includes:

You can meet up to 30 people outdoors

Indoors, the rule of six or a larger group of up to two households is allowed

Indoor hospitality - pubs, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, museums, galleries, concert halls, children play areas, hotels, B&Bs, indoor exercise classes - are allowed.

Leicester South MP and Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Health Secretary Matt Hancock to explain why the Government is rolling out “local lockdowns by the backdoor and hadn't even bothered to tell us”.

Prof Ivan Browne, Leicester’s Director of Public Health, said the Government was not imposing new restrictions on the city – and they had been wrong to suggest they were.

“We had an urgent meeting with Government reps and other affected local authorities today (Tuesday, May 25), after we became aware that the Government had updated its website to include specific advice around Leicester and some other areas where the new Covid-19 variant has been identified as spreading.

“These officials confirmed there are no restrictions on travel in or out of each of our areas and it was a mistake to suggest there was.

“There are no local lockdowns and there is no justification for Leicester to be treated differently to the rest of the country,” said Prof Browne.

“No-one from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) or Public Health England contacted us about this advice, to explain the rationale behind it or give any other information.

“As it stands, Leicester has lower rates of the variant than other parts of the country - and we have a plan in place for stepping up our vaccination rate as agreed with the Government last week.

“We always suggest that people should take a cautious approach and make sensible judgements when restrictions are eased as part of the Government’s roadmap, and that still applies.

“When making travel arrangements, or mixing indoors, we should all follow the necessary precautions which include ventilating rooms and vehicles if car sharing, wearing a face covering on public transport and following the rule of two households or six people if meeting indoors.”