Leicester coronavirus outbreak timeline: Who knew what, and when?

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock first mentioned an “outbreak” in Leicester on 18 June

As the rest of England continues to emerge from lockdown, a fresh outbreak of coronavirus in Leicester means the city will remain largely closed.

The outbreak has prompted criticism about the slow flow of information to reach those in charge of the city

So who knew what, and when? By piecing together statements and claims, we have created a timeline of events around this controversial episode.

Early June

This is when the first inklings of a problem in Leicester were spotted on a local level. Around this time, Leicester’s director of public health, Ivan Browne started to get statistics on people who were not in hospital but were testing positive.

He watched the numbers over several days and noticed that, even though they were “not particularly high”, they seemed to be increasing on a daily basis.

8 June

Within days, a school in the city closed after positive coronavirus tests. One-hundred miles down the M1, this was the first time central government spotted something.

Boris Johnson has since said this is when “the government first took notice, and acted on, what was going on in Leicester”. He insisted that government “engaged actively” with everyone relevant in the city.

9 June

The following day, Ivan Browne felt he had seen enough of an upward trend in numbers. He flagged the situation to the local Public Health England team. However, Mr Browne still hoped that there was a chance this could be explained by increased testing.

15 June

Almost a week later, Ivan Browne says, was the first time he “had any data that indicated we might need to do something”. That’s because his local PHE team gave him a feedback report, which he says confirmed that they also thought there was a genuine increase in cases.

He says council officials had a meeting to discuss making messages about social distancing “a little stronger”.

17 June

Ivan Browne says he heard from the national Test and Trace team on the evening of the 17th. It seems they had also spotted an issue and were able to add some “really helpful” data.

At this stage, however, many people living in Leicester would have been unaware of the extent of the problem in their city.

18 June

The moment when it went public.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock was leading the government press conference when he said: “There is an outbreak right now in parts of Leicester that we’re working hard to track down and we’re putting in a mobile testing unit”.

Leicester’s mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, says this took him by surprise. He knew that cases were increasing, but insists this was the first time anyone used the word “outbreak”.

19 June

This marks the start of central government giving more information to authorities in Leicester. But the council has insisted it was not getting everything it needed. One example is an NHS “digital dashboard” that includes numbers of local tests and positive cases.

The government says some areas got this from 11 June. It was made available to Leicester eight days later, on 19 June, the day after Matt Hancock’s “outbreak” announcement.

22 June

Another day, another load of data.

This time, the local PHE team says the council started getting information totalling both tests in hospitals and the community. Ivan Browne, says this was “nice” but not enough. The authority wanted more detail, specifically postcode data – information on exactly where people who were testing positive lived.

25 June

The government says on 22 June it offered local authorities exactly what Leicester was asking for – postcode data. First though, the councils had to sign a data security agreement.

Some did this quickly and started getting the information on 24 June. Leicester – the most affected authority – did not get it until the following day.

Government sources indicate that Leicester was slower than other areas.

Leicester mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby explains that “there may well have been some bureaucratic hoops for us to jump through before they released the data, but we had been asking for it for weeks by then”.

Decision time?

At this point, we can safely say that both central and local government knew that there was an outbreak – and had data on its extent. More schools were affected and closed for a number of days. Staff were sent home from a supermarket after testing positive. And a sandwich factory said “a handful” of its workers had the virus too.

But there was no immediate lockdown.

Locally, the focus was on mapping out exactly which parts of the city were most affected.

Meanwhile Westminster boosted testing capacity.

28 June

This is the day when rumours of a possible lockdown became more real. Home Secretary Priti Patel confirmed that the government was considering what to do about the outbreak. But even so, there was a disconnect between Leicester and Westminster.

Local MP and shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said there was “no suggestion” a lockdown was about to happen.

Sir Peter Soulsby, also Labour, echoed that, saying it was “not helpful… to suggest there needs to be a city-wide lockdown”.

Overnight 28 June to the morning of 29 June

The BBC has seen a leaked copy of a draft Public Health England report that was sent out less than 24 hours before lockdown was announced. It made certain recommendations – but did not include a full lockdown.

It suggested: “Delaying July 4, 2020 relaxation actions in Leicester and enhancement of enforcement or monitoring of social distancing guidelines for at least two weeks to allow the impact of the above measures to be assessed.”

In other words, as pubs, bars and hairdressers opened up across the rest of England, in Leicester they were to be kept closed for a minimum of a fortnight.

This is far less stringent than what actually happened.

29 June

It seems that something happened on Monday to make the government decide to go for a stricter lockdown. Leicester’s mayor – who the day before had insisted there was no “immediate prospect” of lockdown, says one key bit of data changed his mind. It was the number of people admitted to hospital for coronavirus in Leicester – between six and 10 a day.

Elsewhere in the country, it was more like one.

The final extent of lockdown wasn’t revealed until around 21:00. Matt Hancock told Parliament that Leicester was seeing 135 cases for every 100,000 people.

30 June

The day started with some uncertainty: exactly which bits of Leicestershire were included in the new measures? A map was published about 12 hours after the announcement, showing people if they were now under lockdown or not.

1 July

By now there were already signs of lessons being learnt.The government and local authorities signed an agreement about how to share data more smoothly in the future.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “All councils in England now have the ability to access testing data, right down to an individual and postcode level.

Sir Peter says he hopes that this means “other councils will be able to analyse what’s happening in their area and avoid the necessity of a city-wide intervention”.

Infection rates by local authority

Number of cases per 100,000 over seven days