More towns and cities across the country could follow Leicester into local lockdowns as infections rise – with just days to go before restrictions are lifted nationwide.
Increasing new cases have been found in 36 areas in England as pubs, restaurants and hairdressers prepare to reopen on Saturday.
And infections in Wales also remain worryingly high.
Infectious diseases expert Dr Gail Carson of Oxford University said: “Local lockdowns…are probably to be expected more.”
Spikes have been recorded in Doncaster in South Yorks, Derbyshire, Medway in Kent and the Hammersmith and Fulham borough in West London, among others.
The Prime Minister said yesterday: “Many are nervous, rightly, about more outbreaks whether national or local, like the flare-up in Leicester.”
In the week to last Friday, Leicester had 41 new cases confirmed by Public Health England labs – up from 39 the week before, and accounting 10% of all that week’s nationwide positive tests.
It was the second highest number of new cases in the country after Kent, which had over 100 new infections each week this month, though cases there are declining.
However, in the Medway area it has risen from 10 to 17 week-on-week.
Doncaster had a worrying spike in new cases from 11 to 32.
Derbyshire had 25 new cases last week, up from 23 the week before.
Previous infection rates published by Sage suggested outbreaks may also be growing in the North West.
Data from King’s College London’s Covid Symptom Study App suggests Wales has the highest new symptomatic cases, followed by the Midlands.
Four of the five areas with the most confirmed cases per capita over the entire outbreak are in Wales.
Merthyr Tydfil is top, followed by Denbighshire, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Dundee in Scotland and then Cardiff.
Nationally the number of new cases has flatlined after falling since April.
Public health expert Prof Linda Bauld of Edinburgh University said: “Has the national release of lock down in England been too rapid given the number of cases in the community?
“Learning lessons now could avoid other areas experiencing the same consequences with further damage to children who have recently returned to school, and to local businesses who have reopened and now need to close again.”
Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Leicester lockdown is a “necessary puncturing of the elation that had been building up throughout the country” as restrictions are lifted. The Health Select Committee chairman added: “It’s not going to be smooth and there are going to be times when we have to go into reverse gear.”
Data had suggested a rise in Leicester for weeks, and intensive testing resulted in 10% coming back positive, five times the national rate.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the city was locked down after “targeted action” including extra testing and school closures did not work. He said there was an “unusually high” incidence of coronavirus in children in the city.
Non-essential shops there closed yesterday, and tomorrow schools will return to teaching only the children of key workers. Leicester City said yesterday it would still host Crystal Palace at the King Power Stadium on Saturday after consulting with local authorities, its Safety Advisory Group and the Premier League.
It said the Foxes Fanstore at King Power Stadium has closed and only essential staff will remain on site.
North West Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen said he had reported local “sweatshops” to the Home Office yesterday after the Mirror revealed clothing factories that remained open during lockdown may have been a source of the increased cases.
He said: “There is a very large garment industry which should’ve locked down, which my sources are telling me have worked for internet retailers who’ve been very busy during lockdown and they’ve carried on working as well.”
He added: “The human resources and health and safety are not necessarily what you’d want them to be. I would regard them as sweatshops.”
The number of reported Covid-19 cases in the city are much higher than figures published by the Government suggest.
The most recent data, out on Monday, said there have been 1,056 cases in Leicester since the outbreak began. But Leicester City Council said the latest figures it has received show there have been 3,216.
The difference is due to PHE only reporting cases confirmed in NHS and PHE labs, while the council’s total contains positive test results carried out in testing centres.
While the Government publishes the complete testing data on a national level, it only publishes the partial data for individual local authorities.
Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said he had been trying “for weeks” to access data on the level of testing in the city and only got it last Thursday.
The Department of Health said: “We’re ensuring all local and public health bodies have the data they need to support their plans for potential outbreaks.”
PHE data provides a snapshot of how much coronavirus may be circulating within a local authority area, and is often only the tip of the iceberg with many more cases going undiagnosed.