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Locking down Leicester - Expert Comment

Dr Sharifah Sekalala, Associate Professor in Warwick Law School, comments on the potential challenges of a local lockdown.

We are no longer in this together: Locking down Leicester

"Today, the Leicester mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, received an email at 1am with recommendations that Leicester City should stay 'under current lockdown restrictions' for a further two weeks. Leicester has recently become a hotspot for COVID-19 with 866 cases reported in the last two weeks. Figures shared by Public Health England showed that on 19 June, almost 80 new cases were identified in Leicester. On the same day, there were 1,346 cases confirmed in the UK with Leicester accounting for roughly five per cent of the UK's new cases on that specific day. It is not clear whether Leicester has always been a hotspot or whether increased testing has just made this more visible. Leicester City Council has accused the government of being slow to set up testing centres in highly populated areas, such as Spinney Hills.

What does this mean in practice?

"It isn’t very clear what this would mean but it could, for instance, mean that when bars, cinemas and other places and places of worship reopen elsewhere in the UK on 4 July, this would not happen in Leicester. A more extreme possibility is that Leicester could be advised to close all non-essential shops and schools as was the case during the height of lockdown.

Underlying determinants of health

"Although cases in Leicester are rising, the rates are highest in areas of high density, such as North Evington, Humberstone and Hamilton and Belgrave. Many of these areas have higher than average rates of poverty, have poor housing in old terraces, have high social deprivation and many residents work in highly congested industries, such as the hosiery industry which is traditionally housed in old, unventilated factories in which social distancing is difficult to enforce.

Dangers going forward

"There are dangers that localised lockdowns, such as the possible lockdown in Leicester, could backfire, if lockdown is seen as punitive. One of the things that was critical to the success of the nationwide lockdown was a sense of shared solidarity. In the last few weeks, with allegations of high-profile figures, such as Dominic Cummings, and Leicester’s mayor, being accused of breaking lockdown measures, there has been a wave of disenchantment with those measures. Furthermore, we know that COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted BAME groups and so there is a danger that in creating localised lockdowns, there will be an adverse impact on groups with high black, Asian and other minority backgrounds.

"Additionally, attempts to create localised lockdowns could be divisive if residents feel that they are disproportionately affecting poor people and marginalised communities who are unable to adequately social distance at work. In the past, public health emergencies such as the AIDS crisis were made worse when vulnerable groups refused to seek testing because of a fear of stigma. In places like Leicester, people will be more reluctant to go for testing and to trace and isolate if they feel disproportionately affected by lockdown measures.

What next?

"Lockdowns in democracies have always been about trust. In order for localised lockdowns to be effective, it is important to know what the public health threshold is for creating a localised lockdown so that communities don’t feel that they are being disproportionately impacted when the government decides to lock down particular areas.

"Secondly, COVID-19 illuminates everything that is broken and so governments must make attempts to address the underlying determinants such as poor health, housing and poverty which make some communities more susceptible.

"Above all, we should avoid scenarios in which marginalised groups become more likely to be locked down than other groups. If history has shown us anything, it is that we cannot discriminate against marginalised groups in order to counter public health pandemics."

29 June 2020

CONTACT

Sheila Kiggins

Media Relations Manager

s.kiggins@warwick.ac.uk

07876 218166