Councils in England have been given fresh powers to shut down shops and events to help prevent coronavirus outbreaks and avert local lockdowns.
Boris Johnson said on Friday that local authorities would be given stronger controls in time for the weekend as he set out plans for returning the UK to normality after the Covid-19 crisis.
James Jamieson, the chair of the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents council leaders, said he was hopeful the new measures would prevent local lockdowns like that seen in Leicester being required in the future.
“Locally led responses have proven to be the best way to tackle significant outbreaks, which this framework rightly emphasises. Councils know their local communities best and know how to address each unique outbreak,” Jamieson said.
“Greater powers for councils to take swift and effective action to address local outbreaks will hopefully help avoid the need for more stringent measures to be imposed locally.”
He said the use of enforcement powers “should be an option of last resort”, and he called for more “granular-level” data to be made available to councils to allow them to be “better able to act in real time to increases in infection rates”.
Steve Rotheram, the Liverpool city region mayor, said more detailed data such as daily numbers of people reporting symptoms would help councils target messaging to certain groups.
“The messaging, therefore, might be that we use some of our footballers to get the message over not to go out or to wear face masks or coverings,” he said. “It really is about making certain that we can get the correct message to the right people at the right time.”
Scientists have said the lockdown measures imposed in late March may not have been as effective in black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities because of the “one-size-fits-all” approach.
Academics at the University of Leicester found that Covid-19 cases continued to rise in BAME groups in certain parts of Leicester in the three weeks after the announcement was made, while rates in white groups “dropped off very sharply”.
They said the findings, published recently in the journal EClinicalMedicine, raised serious questions about whether lockdown on its own is effective for a diverse population.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced a partial easing of the prolonged lockdown measures in Leicester on Thursday but said Covid-19 rates in the city remained too high to allow pubs and restaurants to reopen.
Leicester’s mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, accused the government of penalising businesses and residents in a city that predominantly votes Labour.