Enforcing an extension to the Leicester lockdown will mean changes to the law, Matt Hancock has said.
The city is the first place in England to reintroduce restrictive measures to try to stop the spread of coronavirus after 950 cases were reported in a two-week period.
Non-essential shops and schools have been asked to close and people advised to stay at home as much as possible. The health secretary said that in some cases the local lockdown would be enforced by police.
Hancock told Sky News: “We will be bringing forward a legal change very shortly, in the next couple of days, because some of the measures that we’ve unfortunately had to take in Leicester will require a legal underpinning.
“We will be making the legal change so non-essential retail is no longer open.”
Asked if people from Leicester will simply drive to other locations to go to pubs and restaurants this weekend when they open in the rest of the country, Hancock said: “We’re recommending against all but essential travel both to and from and within Leicester, and as we saw during the peak, the vast majority of people will abide by these rules.
“Of course we will take further action, including putting in place laws if that’s necessary, but I hope that it won’t be.”
In his round of morning media interviews, the health secretary said Keighley in West Yorkshire and the London borough of Enfield had also been on the government’s radar for outbreaks but the local authority and government were able to put in “targeted action” that had worked.
The same results had not been achieved in Leicester, he said, despite sending in mobile testing units and working with businesses such as food factories where there were virus outbreaks among staff.
Asked during an interview with Times Radio why preemptive measures had not worked in Leicester, Hancock said: “Of course we’ve got to understand exactly the question you’ve asked: why?
“From about 14 days ago the number of cases started really shooting up. We picked it up as that started and we worked with the council and the public health officials in Leicester. We put in more resources but you’re absolutely right but understanding exactly where the spread is, is very important and we have the data to understand exactly where the positive cases are.
“But what matters is not only where people live, but also where they work and hence working with those businesses, especially in food processing factories.”
There are more than 300,000 people in Leicester. The cases in the city are three times higher per head of population than the next nearest place.
The lockdown measures will be reviewed in two weeks’ time.