Parts of Leicester will be released from lockdown after the Government on Thursday adopted a “targeted” approach which will see pockets of the city remain under tighter restrictions.
After putting the city into Britain’s first local lockdown a fortnight ago, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that schools and nurseries will reopen from July 24.
The council will be given "local powers" to reopen non-essential retail stores where it is deemed safe, but pubs and restaurants will remain closed and restrictions on non-essential travel and gatherings of more than six people will continue to be enforced.
Updating MPs on Thursday, Mr Hancock said the city’s lockdown zone would also be reduced, with areas of Leicestershire including Birstall, Thurmastone and Glenfield released from the measures entirely.
The boundary imposed on June 29 will remain around the city of Leicester and include Oadby and Wigston.
While Leicestershire Council said the boundary changes would coincide with the other easements next Friday, Government sources indicated that they would likely be implemented “within days.”
Defending the decision to maintain a number of restrictions, Mr Hancock added that Covid-19 rates in the city "still remain well above the national average and the average for surrounding areas.”
However, the move has reignited a furious row with Sir Peter Soulsby, the Leicester city mayor, who claimed the Government had “chosen to release all of the Tory voting areas around the city”.
Speaking shortly after the announcement, Sir Peter told Sky News he was “angry, frustrated, very disappointed but frankly not surprised”.
Later, he told reporters: “What they have chosen to do now is not to focus on the areas of the city where the virus is and where we actually need to be putting our attention.
"They have chosen to focus on the city geographical area - effectively the area of the county that votes Labour, and that's just scandalous.
"If they were going to alter the boundary, they should have gone down to the area that they now know where the virus is.”
Hitting back, a senior Government source branded Sir Peter an “imbecile” and pointed out that one of the areas that remained under lockdown - Oadby and Wigston - was the constituency of Conservative MP Neil O'Brien.
They added that the decision to draw up the new boundary was taken at a meeting on Thursday morning attended by Sir Peter, the leader of Leicester council, Mr Hancock and Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer.
“They actually asked the mayor if he wanted to do it differently, or if he could suggest a different boundary or a different way of drawing the line,” the source continued. “He just spluttered and waffled.”
Sir Peter has previously accused ministers and Public Health England of failing to provide local health officials vital data that could have helped reduce the spread of coronavirus in the city before the lockdown was imposed.
His comments were rebuffed at the time by Government sources, who said that Sir Peter had been opposed to any form of local lockdown.
Urging people in Leicester not to lose their resolve, Mr Hancock said that the local restrictions had worked, with the seven-day infection rate in the city falling from 135 cases per 100,000 to 119.
The percentage of people testing positive is now at 4.8 per cent, down from 10 per cent before lockdown.
"These are positive indicators, especially in light of the huge increase in testing,” Mr Hancock added.
"Some say that the local lockdown is unnecessary. I wish this were true, but sadly it remains vital for the health of everyone in Leicester and the rest of the country that these restrictions stay in place.
"We will review them again in a fortnight. I hope that this careful easing of restrictions will provide some comfort to people in Leicester and Leicestershire.
"And I'd say this directly to the people of Leicester and of Leicestershire: I pay tribute to you all.
"Your perseverance and your hard work has brought real and tangible results and you've shown respect for one another.
“The sooner we get this virus under control, the sooner we can restore life in Leicester and across the country to normal.”