THE Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, has urged people not to apportion blame for the rise in Covid-19 cases which has led to a return to lockdown for his city and neighbouring parts of the county.
Bishop Snow’s appeal, after the announcement by the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, had received a very positive response, he said on Tuesday.
“It’s an appeal not to make simplistic explanations for this or to speculate about the causes, and certainly not to use it as a political football,” he said. “Inevitably, there are some who will want to try and get into the blame game; but overall, I think, most of us recognise that this is the time for us to pull together as a city.
“It’s a time for recognising that this pandemic has shown right across the world that those who are most vulnerable in our society — particularly the economically poorest — are the ones who have been most have been affected, and also the BAME communities as well.
“That’s a particular concern for us here. We are a diverse city with large numbers of people of different ethnicities and different faiths: we’ve always enjoyed and celebrated that diversity, and continue to do so.”
The latest figures, issued on Monday, showed that, of the 3216 coronavirus cases confirmed in the city since the start of the pandemic, 944 had been reported in the past two weeks.
Leicester City Council had asked the Government for more detailed information on a rise in cases after its own public-health team noticed a surge in the number of people testing positive in the city. Anger and frustration remains at the long delay in providing the requested figure, which was for the number of cases identified in testing centres, as opposed to hospitals.
The Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, MP for Leicester South, told the House of Commons on Monday evening that the city had been alerted to the situation 11 days previously. His was also one of many voices critical of the way the news of a pending lockdown had been released. People in Leicester, he said, had been “concerned, anxious, and scared on Monday to read in the newspapers and see on TV screens news that their city was going into some form of lockdown, based on anonymous briefings”.
He told the Commons: “We know this virus thrives on inequality, and that a disproportionate number of black and Asian people die from this disease. A disproportionate number of the poorest are also most likely to become infected and die from this disease as well. It means that a city such as Leicester is particularly at risk.
“The Secretary of State will know that Leicester is a proudly diverse city, but we also have one of the highest child-poverty rates in the country. Those who are in work are often in low-paid, precarious employment. Our housing is overcrowded. Our public services have been cut back, and years of austerity have taken their toll.
“Saving lives and keeping people safe across Leicester is always my priority; so I support the measures that he has announced, but we also need extra support, extra testing, and extra resources to protect people in our city.”
There already existed a determination within the city to use the experience and lessons of pandemic to explore a new way of living together in society, Bishop Snow said. “The fact that this has come together with the whole Black Lives Matter movement; the fact that we know there are going to be real economic challenges now. . . I do sense a new mood for wanting to try and address some of the long-term issues which have been highlighted through this experience.”
Faith leaders had been coming together even in the past 24 hours to try to address some of these issues, and to renew their commitment to working together, he said. “It really has been a strength for a long time. We have been through these sorts of challenges before: the terrorist attacks, for instance, and the desire people had then to point fingers and blame particular communities.
“We are used to leaders getting together to talk about these things and try to head off any wider unrest. But, at the same time, we don’t take anything for granted. Emotions are running high; so we can’t be complacent.”
Churches had received the news of the renewed restrictions with a heavy heart, the Bishop said. The diocese covered both city and county, so that, while some were preparing for reopening, others were preparing to reimpose strict measures prohibiting all public worship, funerals, weddings, private prayer — including clergy on their own — and live-streaming of services within the church building.
“We realise how hard this will be for many people, particularly wedding couples — who will need to postpone — and those who had planned funerals in church, which will now have to take place in a crematorium, or at the graveside with minimal numbers,” he said.
“This is very hard for the families concerned, as well as our church leaders and volunteers, who, like the cathedral, which was due to open tomorrow, were in the midst of preparations for reopening. We can only reiterate our belief that our primary responsibility at this time is to work to stop the spread of the disease, and to devote ourselves to prayer and the pastoral care of those who are suffering.”
The Mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby, said that the measures were stricter than expected, but the need for firm action was understood. “I’m determined that we will make this work and minimise the time these additional measures need to be in place in the city. We will, of course, continue to play our part in keeping people in the city safe and healthy,” he said on Tuesday.