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Leicester's local lockdown: a blog from the Vice-Chancellor

Leicester is the first city in the UK to be placed under local lockdown – a fact that has brought global attention upon us during the coronavirus crisis. I know this news has come as a blow to many. We were all looking forward to the rules being relaxed, for businesses to reopen, and to get life back to a semblance of normality.

This is a moment in history that we did not seek, but we need to seize the opportunity to respond collectively as a city. A time to show we are together, we are united, we are strong. By working in partnership and following the rules to minimise risk from the disease, we can create a template for others to follow when they face lockdowns of their own. How we respond could provide a model for others who may face similar lockdowns.

Never has it been so important for us to come together as one community to fight the disease in our midst, to protect the NHS, and to save lives. This is not rhetoric – all eyes are upon us, watching and learning how a city can respond to this crisis.

This is the first time an entire city has been in lockdown in the UK – previously, hospitals, GP surgeries or factories have faced lockdowns. The situation may be unprecedented in the UK, but it presents an opportunity for us to lead by example.

That is why we, at the University of Leicester, are working in partnership with the City Council, County Council, the Police, and many others through the Leicester Resilience Forum, as well as with the NHS trusts and University Hospitals of Leicester, with whom we are closely linked.

Our collective response is going to require drawing on our reserves of strength and spirit after what has already been a lengthy period of lockdown. Since starting at Leicester as Vice-Chancellor in November, I have been immensely impressed by the depth of unity in this city and I have no doubt that in these unprecedented times, we can show the world that we can come together in order to meet the challenge of our time. Every life matters – and that is enough reason for us all to do our best to make a difference. Everyone needs to play their part to ease the lockdown quickly and support our communities and businesses to flourish.

At the University – as with many others –  we have been preparing for various scenarios and eventualities to put us in a strong position for the future.  We were looking forward, too, to resuming activity on our campus and we have launched a blended learning approach called ignite which allows us to switch between face-to-face and on-line learning as required. Staff and students will be understandably anxious about the new academic year and we need to do our utmost to reassure them and take the necessary steps to protect their health and wellbeing.

Now we want to continue our support for the local community. Our researchers have already been engaged in cutting-edge COVID-19 work which is making a real difference to people lives. We will work with the city to ensure Government support to our business and communities is forthcoming. As other cities ease lockdowns, Leicester will be placed at an economic disadvantage with our businesses unable to open. I would urge the Government to recognise the economic and social impact of this lockdown on our city region and provide the essential support and resources required to level the playing field. It is incumbent on all of us, as individuals, as a City, and as a country to ensure Leicester comes out of this crisis supported and prepared for the future.

Our actions today will make a difference to lives tomorrow. I believe Leicester can be a beacon for others to follow and that we can come out of this lockdown stronger and more united.

Professor Nishan Canagarajah
President and Vice-Chancellor

This was originally written for the Leicester Mercury.

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