Minister Insists New Local Lockdown Guidance Isn't "Out Of The Blue" Despite Never Being Announced
A senior minister has insisted that new travel advice for people living in the areas most affected by the Indian variant of the coronavirus should not come as a surprise, despite the government neither announcing it nor informing local leaders.
Confusion reigned on Monday evening when it emerged that the government had quietly updated its website to reflect stricter guidance for people living in eight areas of the country where the B.1.617.2 variant is most prevalent.
The guidance, which appears to have been updated on Friday, says people in those areas should only meet outside where possible, keep two metres apart from people not in their bubble, and avoid travelling in and out of affected areas unless for essential purposes.
It affects the following local authorities: Bedford council, Blackburn with Darwen council, Bolton Metropolitan council, Burnley council, Kirklees council, Leicester council, Hounslow council and North Tyneside council.
However, Dominic Harrison, the director of public health at Blackburn with Darwen Council, said the affected areas were "not consulsted with, warned of, notified about, or alerted to this guidance".
Yasmin Qureshi, the Labour MP for Bolton South East, said she said also wasn't informed of the updated guidance and "I understand nor was anyone else in Bolton".
She said: "I'm just gobsmacked. They're making such an important announcement and they don't even have the decency to tell us or tell our constituents".
Chris Green, the Conservative MP for Bolton West & Atherton, tweeted that he only found out last night and would seek clarification from the government this morning.
Tony Roe, a political reporter for the BBC in the East Midlands, pointed out that 8,000 people attended Leicester City's Premier League match against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, while the local authority was subject to the stricter travel guidance.
But this morning Therese Coffey, the secretary of state for work and pensions, said she didn't understand why people were surprised by the new guidance, telling Sky News the government had been "working in close contact" with the affected local authorities.
"I'm surprised people think this has come out of the blue. It hasn't," she said.
“The prime minister had laid out that we needed to take extra caution in certain areas regarding the Indian variant. It’s good practice to formally put on the record guidance affecting those communities".
Boris Johnson said in a press conference on Friday 14 May that he'd "urge people" in Bolton to "think twice" about staying over with family and friends and that people in the most affected areas "should recognise the extra risk of disruption with this new variant".
However, the government did not formally announce the updated guidance for those areas.
Coffey later told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the updated guidance was "about extra caution" as the government attempts to stop the spread of the variant first identified in India.
"We know in particular communities we have seen an increase in transmission of infection so it's just about sensible extra caution for people, for us to try and get a grip locally of tackling the spread, and I’m also very pleased that more people have come forward to get their vaccinations.
"It’s a concerted effort with extra focus in certain communities and I think it’s a sensible approach”.
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