Government changes Covid-19 guidance in 8 areas - with no official announcement

25 May 2021, 05:58 | Updated: 25 May 2021, 11:02

By Asher McShane

The government is facing criticism for issuing new official coronavirus advice in eight parts of England where the India variant of Covid-19 is spreading fastest without making an official announcement.

The change to the guidance appears to have been made on Friday without an official announcement - prompting criticism from MPs.

Officials said areas including Bolton, Leicester, Kirklees and the London borough of Hounslow were hardest hit and people there should not meet indoors.

People should avoid travelling into and out of the eight areas, with Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley and North Tyneside also on the list. People in the eight areas should also be tested twice a week, according to the Government advice.

Professor Dominic Harrison, director of public health for Blackburn with Darwen, said he had not been made aware of the updated guidance advising against all but essential travel in the area.

He tweeted: "#localgov areas involved were not consulted with, warned of, notified about, or alerted to this guidance. I have asked to see the national risk assessment which supports this action - it has not been provided to us yet."

Other councils followed suit saying the had not been made aware.

Bedford Borough Council has this morning released a statement confirming that they were not made aware of any travel advisory changes relating to the spread of the new coronavirus variant.

“With local spread of the variant of concern B.1.617.2, first identified in India, the Government has advised people not to travel to or from Bedford Borough to help stop the spread of the virus,” said a spokesperson.

“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.”

Leaders in Lancashire are due to discuss the new guidance with the Government today, a spokesman said.

The spokesman for the Lancashire Resilience Forum said: "We have raised this with Government and are having discussions later today."

Tweeting about the situation in North Tyneside, Arlen Pettitt from the North East Chamber of Commerce said: "This is absolutely ridiculous.

"How can you expect people to follow the guidance if you don't tell them what it is?"

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The change to the guidance - which is not law - appears to have been made on Friday without an official announcement, prompting criticism from MPs.

Yasmin Qureshi, Labour MP for Bolton South East and shadow international development minister, said: "I was not informed of this and I understand nor was anyone else in Bolton.

"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.

"This is typical of this Government's incompetence."

Layla Moran, chairwoman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, said updating the guidance without a proper announcement "is a recipe for confusion and uncertainty".

"Local people and public health leaders in these areas need urgent clarity from the Government. Matt Hancock must come before Parliament and make a public statement to explain these new rules," she said.

Newly elected West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin added the change could cause "anxiety and confusion".

Ms Brabin said she would raise the matter urgently with vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi on Tuesday.

She tweeted: "If Govt are concerned we need clear guidance and support not advice that could cause anxiety and confusion."

Meanwhile, quarantine requirements will reportedly be maintained for those who come into contact with positive cases after June 21 even if they have received both doses of the vaccine.

The Daily Telegraph said this could mean the nearly 23 million people who have had both doses could be forced to isolate for 10 days if contacted by the NHS, adding a negative test would not allow an early end to quarantine.

Separately, the Government will be facing an urgent question from Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth on Covid-19 on Tuesday.

A Government spokesman said: "Working with local authorities, we took swift and decisive action to slow the spread of the B1.617.2 (India) variant by introducing surge testing and bringing forward second doses of the vaccine for the most vulnerable.

"We provided additional guidance for those living in affected areas when we became aware of the risk posed by the variant, to encourage people to take an extra cautious approach when meeting others or travelling."

In other developments:

- Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar is to call on the Holyrood government to deliver an exit plan for Glasgow, where the City Council area is currently under Level 3 restrictions while most of mainland Scotland is at the less-severe Level 2.

- Dr Frank Atherton, the Welsh chief medical officer, said a new spike of cases caused by a "rapid relaxation" of rules, or a spread of an imported strain of Covid-19, could halt Wales' progress in supressing the virus.

- The UK Government said a further three people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday, bringing the UK total to 127,724.