I live just on the edge of Leicester city centre, quite close to one of the universities, which means at the moment with no students around my part of the city is relatively empty, social distancing has been easy enough to do, and for the most part rules have been observed in the immediate area (with a few exceptions, but even the committed drinkers that have colonised part of the local park at least leave plenty of space around the path through it, so you can still distance from them). There have been Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the city, one large one that I completely avoided, and a few smaller events which I've seen from a distance.
I haven't wanted to be anywhere near even small crowds, but they've been easy enough to give a wide berth to when I've seen them, and almost everybody present that I saw was wearing a mask, and keeping some sort of distance. Much like the people standing in long queues for post offices and shops. There was some coverage of high rates of infection in Leicester over the last couple of weeks, but the centre itself felt safe enough - well organised, plenty of hand sanitizer (including on stands in the market place), and orderly.
The way rumour and reporting ramped up over the weekend was worrying, but as Sunday turned into Monday, and 5pm came and went with no announcements the speculation was very much that the worst of it might be that existing restrictions would simply stay in place a while longer. At 9.15pm we got the news that we were meant to be going back into something much more like full lock down, and that non essential businesses would be closed from the Tuesday.
Which really isn't a lot of notice, and quite feasibly people would have been done with news for the day. I can only imagine the frantic phoning around employers had to do. Beyond that there was no clear idea of exactly where was covered by the lockdown zone, what it meant for people with jobs outside the city limits, how it might affect people on Job Seekers allowance, what it meant for social bubbles, or crucially why Leicester has such a spike in cases and where are they centred.
As of this morning (Wednesday) there's a postcode checker if you're not quite sure about if you're in the lock down zone or not - because that's just how vague it is, and it sounds like the council might finally be getting more detailed data. Sounds like, and might, are the key words there though.
It seems like single people and single parents can still stay in their social bubbles with another household, but it's not clear what that means if your other household is on the wrong side of the lock down zone. My partner is outside the zone, and I won't be seeing him, though the fact that I could and did see him in the days leading up to this, and considered packing a bag and heading over there on Monday evening sort of makes a mockery of having to officially keep a distance a few hours later. Or do we officially have to keep a distance?
It's the sort of question there should be quickly available answers for. School's are closing again for all but children of key workers, tomorrow - because now apparently there's a suggestion that children are passing on the virus - there's a ton of unanswered question about that too, and difficulties for single parents who have to consider if their children should be moving between households which might be on either side of the lockdown zone, or how to explain to children inside the zones with schools outside it why they're home again. For people coming out of shielding the advice seems a bit hazy too. I'm guessing that effectively if you're somewhere near the boundary line the common sense thing is to carry on as before. All of it adds to the worry when it's so unclear how your friends and family are affected, even if you've more or less worked out your own position.
Meanwhile the level of traffic in the city does not appear to have significantly reduced, though the number of pedestrians has, there are builders working outside my window, on the other side of the road, and on the opposite bank of the river to me, and whilst the university is firmly closed to academic staff and students, maintenance and security are still very much present.
County town councils are angry with the city mayor for stating the obvious about the chances of people heading out to them from the lockdown zone - but there's nothing to stop them, no resources to police this, and absolutely no sense that there was a coherent plan from government about how local lockdowns might work despite knowing they were on the cards. This should surely have been planned for better than this? A lot of pubs in the county are now choosing not to open at the weekend because of their proximity to the city, some that are will be asking for evidence of local residency before they let customers in, but there's no indication that there's a wider strategy, or even advice, for businesses outside the zone. At least one hairdresser who lives in Leicester has been told that she's still okay to go to clients houses outside the zone after Saturday as planned.
A lot of the commentary online around why this is happening to Leicester is blatantly racist and deeply unhelpful. Leicester is a very diverse city, and there are a lot of older people for whom English is a second language that they struggle with, but there's been a lack of public health advice in anything other than English. It's also a poor city (40% of children are estimated to be being bought up in poverty). The areas that are supposed to be most affected are generally ones of small terraced houses where multi generational living is common. Gardens are tiny, pavements narrow, local shops small and there shouldn't be any blame attached to that.
I am reading that there have been issues in some of the garment factories, which have long been known for exploitative habits, including paying as little as £3.50 an hour. There are articles about this in The Guardian and The Financial Times today. It seems they may have been forcing people to work in unsafe conditions. This is believable, it's also a situation that's been on the radar for years so there's also a big question about why so little has been done about it, and if even this will be enough to change things.
So altogether I'm angry. Not at the relatively minor inconvenience (to me at least) of going back into lockdown, not even at the frustration not knowing when I can see my family again, but at the lack of clarity and obvious organization. It seems likely these lockdowns are going to be a feature of the coming months, they need to be handled a lot better than this has been. I hope lessons are learnt from what Leicester is going through, but honestly there's a lot of it that should have been obvious, and it's deeply worrying that it's taking so long to address.