Any decision to lift Leicester’s lockdown “can’t be rushed” and will depend on coronavirus disease rates falling to levels comparable with other areas, one of the Government’s deputy chief medical officers has said.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said a lockdown exit plan for the city depends on value judgments by public health professionals on when Covid-19 rates are “consistently and obviously” falling.
The latest figures for Leicester show a seven-day rate of 126 cases per 100,000 people, compared with figures of 17.8 for Leicestershire as a whole, 9.3 in Derby and 5.4 in Nottingham.
Mr Van-Tam told the BBC: “The situation has improved but it needs to go further.”
Answering claims from Leicester Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby that data being provided to local health officials is not detailed enough and up to two weeks out of date, Mr Van-Tam said: “The local authority is getting absolutely granular postcode-level data.
“The director of public health has been having access to a digital dashboard showing the rates of disease in Leicester city since June 11.
“There have been bumps in the road … in terms of data, but I think the idea that it’s two weeks out of date is just not true.”
Although he stressed that he would not have a personal role in deciding whether to lift Leicester’s lockdown, Mr Van-Tam said any “exit plan” would depend on several factors.
The professor said: “The clear exit plan is when a number of things come together – that the disease rate is consistently and obviously falling … that it is comparable and sensibly comparable with other areas of the country, when the swab positivity rate is dropping and holding its drop, and when there is a clear understanding that everything is in place to be able to keep it that way.
“All of these things are value judgments by professional public health specialists – this can’t be rushed.”
Pressed on whether Leicester’s lockdown is likely to be lifted after a review expected next Saturday, Mr Van-Tam said: “With any of these things, usually the way that one approaches them from a public health perspective is to take a phased approach.
“Normally you don’t just go from having the brakes on heavily to just taking the brakes off completely.
“I think that’s a reasonable expectation to set.”
Mayor Sir Peter told BBC Breakfast that, having “finally” been provided with “useful data”, it was known that around 10% of the city has recorded a higher transmission of the virus.
He said: “If we had known that weeks ago, we could’ve actually dealt with it at that time and prevented this lockdown.
“It’s very clear, when you look at the data, that it’s a couple of areas of the city that have got a higher than the average transmission of the virus, and certainly the way in which the city has been locked down in its entirety, and indeed beyond our boundary, is not justified.”
He added: “Even now we’re getting it (the data), it doesn’t have some of the vital stuff that we need, particularly in a city like Leicester.
“We need to know the ethnicity of the people who are being tested, we need to know where they are working. There’s been all this talk about perhaps it’s passed on in factories, but we have no way of knowing that.”
Asked if he hoped the lockdown restrictions would be lifted soon, he said: “I very much hope so, yes.”
But he added: “It was clear from discussions we were having last week with them (the Department of Health) that they haven’t yet got a clue of how on earth they’re going to measure what constitutes success in this.”