LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Churches in Leicester have been shut to the public as the central English city was put into a localized lockdown due to a surge of COVID-19 cases.
The city will be placed in a “pre-June 15” setting, the date when England opened non-essential businesses and allowed places of worship to allow the public inside for private prayer for the first time since the country went into lockdown on March 23.
In a video message to St. Peter’s Parish posted to Facebook, Father John Cahill confirmed that the Diocese of Nottingham – which covers the region – is “asking us to pause all of our efforts to try and get things open again.”
“Even what we have done I think is going to have to go backwards, so there will be no opening of churches, and again no public services that we were hoping to start next weekend for another couple of weeks; so I am afraid everything is back on pause but hopefully not for too long,” Cahill said.
The UK health secretary Matt Hancock said the city of 330,000 has seen 10 percent of all positive cases in England over the past week, and its seven-day infection rate of 135 cases per 100,000 people is three times higher than the next highest city.
The surge of cases in Leicester is recent – there have been 3,216 total cases since the epidemic began, but 944 were reported in the last two weeks.
“We recommend to people in Leicester, stay at home as much as you can, and we recommend against all but essential travel to, from and within Leicester,” Hancock said. “We’ll monitor closely adhering to social distancing rules and we’ll take further steps if that is what’s necessary.”
In the livestreamed Mass from the bishop’s chapel in Nottingham, prayers were offered for the people of Leicester “as they go back into lockdown to curtail the spike of COVID 19 there.”
Although Leicester has taken a step back in the easing of lockdown restrictions, the rest of England is still scheduled to allow public worship on July 4, the same day restaurants and pubs are allowed to reopen.
“The strategy is to allow for the opening up of the rest of the country, giving people their freedoms back where it is safe to do so,” Hancock told Sky News. “But we also need, alongside that, to take local action where there is a specific flare-up.”
Leicester will end its extended lockdown on July 18 at the earliest.
Cahill told his parishioners he hopes the situation is “done and dusted very quickly.”
“I think they were always going to want to try this out and I’m afraid Leicester has drawn the short straw with this little spike that is going on in the east of the city. Let’s hope and pray that this doesn’t amount to anything too grave and we can all get back to normal fairly quickly,” the priest said.
He did note that much progress had been made in preparing for the resumption of public worship in Leicester, so “it’s not a complete rewind.”
“We’ve got a platform to launch from now hopefully in the next couple of weeks once we catch up with everybody else again, we will be ready to go with some public Masses and services in church,” Cahill said. “We are all in it together, so just plod on and it will soon be behind us.”
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome