Clive Bull 1am - 4am
Government 'updating' local Covid guidance after confusion
25 May 2021, 14:50 | Updated: 25 May 2021, 19:28
The Government plans to "update" local Covid guidance after 24 hours of confusion and controversy over whether people should travel in and out of eight areas in England.
Guidance changed on the gov.uk website last week which told people to avoid Bolton, Blackburn with Darwen, Kirklees, Bedford, Burnley, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside - but was only noticed and questioned on Monday evening.
After talks with ministers on Tuesday, angry local leaders confirmed that no new Covid restrictions or local lockdowns are being put in place where the variant has been detected.
Bolton council leader David Greenhalgh told a press conference on Tuesday: "We are in a position to be able to say with assuredness that there are no added restrictions coming to Bolton.
"There is no local lockdown and the position in Bolton remains the same as it did at the time of the Prime Minister's announcement 10 days or so ago."
He also confirmed that people should not cancel their bank holiday plans but continue to be cautious when meeting with others.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, who joined the conference, said that late republishing of guidance - which do not have any legal weight behind them - had thrown people's plans "into chaos" ahead of bank holiday Monday next week.
He said: "Obviously there's been a huge amount of confusion across the system and this would appear to be, in my view, a fairly major communications error of the kind that we saw a lot of last year but we haven't seen recently.
"But it does have a real impact on people's lives and I think this is the important thing to say - it doesn't just affect Bolton residents, although it does affect them very much, but people have to remember that Bolton residents work in other parts of Greater Manchester and other residents in our nine other boroughs work in Bolton."
Mr Bunham added: "We're hearing schools are confused about whether school trips can happen, amateur sports has been thrown into chaos as a result, people will have plans for the bank holiday and all of it just needs clearing up."
The region's coronavirus case rate has jumped in the past week, with 84.3 per 100,000 people infected with the virus.
Meanwhile, Leicester’s public health director Professor Ivan Browne also confirmed that the republished guidance is not tantamount to additional restrictions and that people should continue to follow the national rules.
He said: "We had an urgent meeting with Government reps and other affected local authorities today after we became aware that the Government had updated its website to include specific advice around Leicester and some other areas where the new Covid-19 variant has been identified as spreading.
"These officials confirmed there are no restrictions on travel in or out of each of our areas and it was a mistake to suggest there was.”
However, he went on to say that people should be cautious and make “sensible judgements”.
In North Tyneside, the council also confirmed that there are no new travel restrictions in or out of the area.
"There are no local lockdowns," Wendy Burke, Director of Public Health for North Tyneside, said.
“In areas where the new COVID variant is spreading we are all working together to boost testing and vaccination and to support self-isolation.
"There are sensible public health precautions people can take as individuals in line with the sorts of advice we have all been following throughout the pandemic."
EXPLAINED: Can you travel to affected areas?
A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We will be updating the guidance for areas where the new COVID-19 variant is spreading to make it clearer we are not imposing local restrictions.
"Instead, we are providing advice on the additional precautions people can take to protect themselves and others in those areas where the new variant is prevalent.
"This includes, wherever possible, trying to meet outdoors rather than indoors, keeping 2 metres apart from anyone you don’t live with and minimising travel in and out the area.
"These are not new regulations but they are some of the ways everyone can help bring the variant under control in their local area.”