A stricter lockdown in Leicester will be eased after a drop in coronavirus cases, Matt Hancock has said.
The health secretary told the House of Commons some restrictions would be lifted from 24 July “but not all” following a prolonged lockdown.
The city remained under strict measures from 29 June after a spike in cases.
Restrictions on schools and nurseries will be lifted but bars remain closed as virus rates “still remain well above the national average”, Mr Hancock said.
The secretary of state said the latest data showed the seven-day infection rate in Leicester was now 119 cases per 100,000 people – down from 135 when the prolonged lockdown was announced.
A new local power will be used to close shops selling non-essential items where necessary.
Bars and restaurants in the city will still not be allowed to open and the ban on non-essential travel and social gatherings of more six people will remain in force.
Despite announcing schools can reopen, those run by the city and county council have already closed for the summer.
Mr Hancock said: “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.”
‘We seem to be forgotten’
Michelle Teale, who has incurable breast cancer, said she was upset the announcement made no mention of people still “shielding” in the city.
In his 29 June announcement, the health secretary said the nationwide relaxation of shielding measures on 6 July would not apply to Leicester.
“Each week that goes by is another week taken away from me,” she said.
“Yet again, he [Matt Hancock] never said anything about shielding people. We seem to be the forgotten people.
“We didn’t think it was going to be good news, and now we just have to wait.”
A number of suburbs included in the original lockdown boundary will be removed from 24 July, following discussions between the government and the county council.
However, restrictions will remain in the borough of Oadby and Wigston as case numbers are still above the national average.
Borough council leader John Boyce called its continued inclusion “a complete slap in the face to residents” and said he was “extremely disappointed” the county council had recommended restrictions remain.
County council leader Nick Rushton said the borough was a “hot spot” and “so far above the national average for cases that we have to remain cautious”.
Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, who earlier suggested restrictions “should be lifted for 90% of the city”, expressed disappointment at the latest announcement.
He said he was “extremely frustrated that a sledgehammer approach is being taken to deal with an issue in a very small part of the city”.
Liz Kendall, Labour MP for Leicester West, tweeted that people in the city would be “very disappointed that whilst non-essential retail can now open our hospitality sector can’t and travel restrictions still apply”.
‘Leicester will be a dark place’
Blake Edwards, who runs a barber shop in the city, said news of a further delay to reopening was “heartbreaking”.
“I’m really angry and bitter,” he said.
“While this needs to be done and we want everyone to be safe, with another two weeks we need some financial support.
“It’s really serious for us now. Leicester will be in a dark place if we don’t sort this out.”