Indian Covid variant: No 10 tells Britons in hotspots to use ‘individual judgement’ after travel warning
People living in Indian variant hotspots should exercise their own “individual judgement” on whether they follow new guidance not to travel in and out of local areas, Downing Street has said.
Boris Johnson’s official spokesman failed to explain why town halls and local health chiefs in the eight areas affected were not warned about the advice, saying only that the government had kept in contact with local authorities throughout the pandemic.
Labour said the measures amounted to “local lockdowns by stealth” and called for them to be scrapped and replaced with enhanced testing and front-loaded vaccination for the areas most affected.
And Leicester City Council effectively told residents they could ignore the new guidance. In a statement, the authority said it amounted to no more than “advice” and no evidence had been provided on why people or businesses in the city should not continue to follow the existing rules applying to the rest of England.
In a statement, the council said that no-one from the Department of Health and Social Care or Public Health England had been in contact about the new advice, which came at a time when Leicester has lower rates of the highly-infectious variant than other parts of the country.
The government guidance says that almost 2 million people living in Bolton, Blackburn, Kirklees, Bedford, Burnley, Leicester, North Tyneside and the London borough of Hounslow should should avoid all but essential travel in and out of their home areas.
It was posted online without fanfare on Friday, but only became widely known after being spotted by journalists on Monday.
Bolton council leader David Greenhalgh said he had been assured by government, NHS and Public Health England sources that there were no additional restrictions in the town and “no local lockdown”.
While he advised people to observe guidance, he told a press conference that his message to the people of Bolton was that there was no need to cancel holidays planned for half-term next week.
“Keep to your plans, but keep to them safely and responsibly,” he said.
Mr Greenhalgh warned that many people felt the town had been “unfairly treated” in previous lockdowns and was now being “singled out” for tougher restrictions. “There’s an underlying resentment that can very easily, if we are not careful, turn into anger,” he warned.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said it appeared that a website displaying existing guidance for local variant areas had been “amended” on Friday without anyone in the authority being warned.
He described it as a “major communications error” which had caused a “huge amount” of confusion and concern among people and businesses who travel in and out of Bolton as part of their normal daily lives.
And he called for a government minister to make a statement before Bank Holiday Monday to clarify what was required from people.
Ministers should “clear it up and clear it up really quickly”, he said, adding: “That can only be done by the government acknowledging what appears to be a mistake and saying exactly what is required of people.”
Mr Burnham said: “People will have made plans for the Bank Holiday weekend and it is not reasonable to expect people to change those plans on the basis of something issued without explanation.”
Hounslow Council leader Steve Curran said the government’s communications had been “woefully lacking” and “shambolic”.
“This government needs to step up and start communicating with councils properly,” he said. “It needs to inform us directly of decisions and give us time to put measures in place to inform, protect and support our communities. Anything short of that risks lives.
“For one of London’s most connected boroughs – with Heathrow on its doorstep, the M4 and A4 running through it, the Piccadilly Line, the main line from Waterloo, plus the North Circular via Kew Bridge – to try and limit travel within its borders is not only impossible, it’s a ridiculous idea.”
The mayor of North Tyneside, Norma Redfearn, said the new guidance was “disproportionate” for the area.
“We received no consultation or communication about this advice which has implications for people across North Tyneside and the wider region,” said Ms Redfearn. “It is essential the government explain what this advice means in practice.”
Bedford Borough Council said in a statement: “We were not made aware of the introduction of this advice and are urgently looking at the implications of this on the services we provide.”
Mr Johnson’s spokesperson denied it amounted to a “lockdown”, telling reporters: “It is important to emphasise that this is guidance. These are not statutory restrictions. People should try to follow it if at all possible. We recognise that in certain circumstances this will not be possible.”