Local lockdowns will become ‘new normal’ until vaccine found, warns Jeremy Hunt

JEREMY Hunt has warned that local lockdowns will become the "new normal" until a vaccine is found.

It comes as harsher restrictions are coming into force in Leicester following a surge in the number of coronavirus cases in the city.

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The former health secretary said that the situation was "inevitable" as the country gears up for more relaxed measures this weekend.

He also warned that the easing of restrictions would be a "stop, go" process until there is a vaccine.

Mr Hunt, chairman of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It was probably, sadly, a necessary puncturing of the elation that had been building up throughout the country in the run up to July 4.

"When you look around the rest of the world at what's happening in Israel, Florida, Texas, Germany – you can see unfortunately that this really is a 'stop, go' process until we get a vaccine.

"It's not going to be smooth and there's going to be times where we have to go into reverse gear."

'Not a one-off'

Mr Hunt also warned that the Leicester lockdown wouldn't be a "one-off occurrence" and hoped "lessons would be learned for other cities".

He added: "We know that the NHS Test and Trace process was going to take until the end of June before it could fully get local public health officers and local authorities on board and co-ordinated with their efforts.

"We're now at that point, so I think there will be things when it comes to other cities and similar situations that happen more smoothly.

"We have shown that we're prepared to react quickly and decisively when there is an outbreak and let's hope we can get through this in Leicester quickly."

Mr Hunt said that a meeting would be held later to discuss the next steps for local lockdowns and that there were some "big lessons to learn".

He added: "At the height of the crisis, we know that 20 per cent of people who had coronavirus in hospitals actually caught the virus in that hospital."

 

 

"The lesson is very clear you can't keep patients safe unless we keep staff safe.

"That's not just about PPE – that's about regular testing so you root out asymptomatic carriers of the virus and I think that's something where we could go a lot further."

Leicester lockdown

It comes as pubs, restaurants and other hospitality industries are set to reopen in England on July 4.

But non-essential shops in Leicester will be closed from Tuesday after a rise in Covid-19 cases.

In the past week, 10 per cent of all positive cases were in city – meaning the planned easing of restrictions there will not go ahead.

People have also been advised against all but essential travel.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said Leicester's seven-day infection rate was 135 cases per 100,000 – three times that of the next highest city.

While the exact area impacted is not expected to be made clear until later, Mr Hancock said Leicester and the surrounding conurbation including Oadby, Birstall and Glenfield would be included.

Leicester City Council said there had been 944 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the city in the past two weeks, and that an indoor testing centre would open on Tuesday at the Highfields Community Centre, with further testing sites planned.

Under review

Mr Hancock said the measures would be kept under review and would not stay in place "any longer than is necessary", adding: "We'll review if we can release any of the measures in two weeks."

He told the Commons: "These actions are profoundly in the national interest too because it's in everyone's interests that we control the virus as locally as possible.

"Local action like this is an important tool in our armoury to deal with outbreaks while we get the country back on its feet."

It's in everyone's interests that we control the virus as locally as possible

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth, who represents Leicester South, said: "We were alerted to the situation in Leicester 11 days ago and now we've got tonight from the Secretary of State the whack-a-mole strategy.

"Doesn't he agree that if we're as a nation to ease the lockdown smoothly then those areas that do see flare-ups will need greater speed in the response, otherwise we risk no moles getting whacked?"

In the Commons yesterday, Mr Hunt also expressed concerns that antibody testing – which shows if someone has previously had Covid-19 – was being used on NHS staff.

The chairman of the Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee added: "Given that it takes up to three weeks for an antibody to show, how can a regime that is meant to stop the asymptomatic transmission of the virus to patients and colleagues before they manage to transmit it possibly work?"

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Responding, Mr Hancock said: "That regime is the one recommended by clinicians.

"The Siren study not only starts with an antibody test but then has regular swab testing, including at weekly frequency within it.

"So you get the regular testing to find out if people have the virus, also the test at the start to find out if they have had it."

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