As the UK prepares to lift itself out of the lockdown that was imposed in March to curb the number of COVID-19 cases, Leicester has become the first British city to impose its own first full local lockdown.
Non-essential shops have closed, and schools will shut for most pupils on Thursday.
Why is Leicester Shutting Back Down?
It comes after Leicester City Council reported 944 positive cases of COVID-19 in the two weeks leading up to June 23. Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Breakfast that there had been “an unusually high incidence” of coronavirus cases among children in the city since increased testing began in Leicester 10 days ago.
Why Has There Been a Spike in Cases Among Kids?
It has been confirmed that children are at extremely low risk of becoming ill from the virus. Across the UK, 0.01 percent of deaths were people under 15 and 1 percent were aged 15-44.
One of the mysteries behind COVID-19 is how infectious anyone with mild symptoms or no symptoms at all is. Studies of clusters of infections in family groups across China have concluded- thanks to contact tracing- that none of the coronavirus infections were likely to have been introduced by children.
No official explanation has been provided as to why Leicester is experiencing a high volume of COVID-19 cases among children, but there are a number of reasons as to why they could be vulnerable to the coronavirus in this city in particular.
Overcrowding More Than Likely Makes COVID-19 Worse
An analysis by the New Policy Institute shows that the top five most-crowded areas in the nation have seen 70 percent more coronavirus cases than the five least-crowded. This includes London and Birmingham, where just 11 percent and 9 percent of homes respectively are classed as overcrowded.
Although there are no recent figures that reveal the scale of overcrowding in Leicester at the moment, the number of homeless families put into temporary accommodation- including hostels and bed and breakfasts- soared in the city in 2018. A total of 150 households were living in temporary accommodation in June of that year. This is seven times higher than at the same point in 2017, when the figure just stood at 20.
Nonetheless, Leicestershire Live reported in April this year that more than half of children in some Leicester neighborhoods are living in poverty. An estimated 43,677 children in Leicestershire are living below the poverty line as a result of the lockdown and long-term insecure employment. 30,866 of them have at least one parent who has a job.
In Leicester East alone, no less than 42 percent of children live under the poverty line. Those parents with jobs are likely to be the most exposed to the coronavirus as many of them are more than likely to be working as carers or cleaners.
Local Officials Should Lead the Way
As The Conversation argues, whilst the outbreak must be brought under control, it must be done so in a way that reflects the realities on the ground in Leicester. The city council so far has no clear information on the location of people who have tested positive for the virus. Local politicians, health professionals and voluntary organizations know Leicester far better than Westminster politicians, which is why they should be trusted to lead the city’s response to the coronavirus without further damaging its economic prospects.
Leicester may not be the first city that will witness a rise in COVID-19 cases. If the poorest citizens are more than likely to catch the virus, then other cities experiencing overcrowding and poverty will more than likely report a surge in infections soon. A prolonged lockdown in Leicester is only likely to increase people’s risk of catching the coronavirus.
More information may become available soon as to why there has been a spike in coronavirus cases among Leicester’s children, but there is no doubt that the city’s poverty is the most likely factor as to why this has happened. Unfortunately, the coronavirus has only revealed the need to generate prosperity in Leicester as soon as possible, and a prolonged lockdown is only likely to exasperate the city’s poverty.