This Is What It's Like To Own A Business In Leicester's Lockdown Zone

Pub and restaurant owners in the city hit by a coronavirus outbreak react to the measures that will stop them reopening on Saturday.

Shaf Islam says he woke up on Monday with a spring in his step.

The owner of Chutney Ivy, a fine dining Indian restaurant in Leicester, had a busy few days ahead as he got ready to reopen at the weekend just like other establishments across England as part of the coronavirus lockdown easing.

“I was getting the restaurant ready, moving furniture around, ordering screens, masks and visors,” he told HuffPost UK. “I was looking forward to the week and then we got a phone call at 9am asking if I knew the restaurant might not be able to open.”

Islam’s restaurant is in the city centre and so falls in the area being kept under existing lockdown restrictions as authorities battle to get the local coronavirus outbreak under control.

Rising numbers of cases in the East Midlands city – 10% of all positive cases in the country over the past week – mean the planned easing of restrictions on Saturday will not take place, with people advised against all but essential travel.

“In March we suffered an earthquake and this has been a very delayed aftershock,” Islam added. “I think it’s very unfair, we’re almost being used as a guinea pig in Leicester.”

Countless bars, restaurants, cafes and hairdressers must remain shut for at least two weeks even as those elsewhere in the country welcome guests for the first time in months on Saturday.

Stephen Hoskins, owner of The Ale Wagon, had decided opening on a weekend would be “mayhem” so was planning on waiting until Tuesday. A takeaway service over the last few weeks has just about kept him afloat but isn’t viable in the long term.

“I don’t know how long we can carry on like this – possibly another month,” he told HuffPost UK.

“It’s all very real for me because I lost my brother who was also my business partner in April to it, so I know how bad it is and up to a point I can see what they’re doing.

“But at some point everything’s got to open up otherwise everybody’s going to have to shut down.”

Other business owners are also unsure how the local lockdown will work. Azziza Burnham, owner of Roma bar and cafe, told HuffPost UK: “I find it quite strange that some restaurants not in the lockdown area have said they’re not going to take bookings from people in the city.

“How are they going to police that?”

Health secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News the government would bring forward a legal change “in the next couple of days” as some of the measures being put in place in Leicester “will require legal underpinning”.

“In some cases” the lockdown would be enforced by the police, Hancock said, while legal changes would be made so non-essential retail is no longer open.

When pressed on how people would be stopped from travelling outside the city, he said: “We’re recommending against all but essential travel both to and from and within Leicester, and as we saw during the peak, the vast majority of people will abide by these rules.

“Of course we will take further action including putting in place laws if that is necessary but I very much hope it won’t be.”

Adding to the frustration, Burnham had already taken bookings for next week and had a just a taste of what returning to normality would be like.

“As soon as I made the advert saying we were going to reopen people were emailing straight away,” she added.

“It was really exciting, actually. Well, for about five minutes.”


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