Northern lockdown: Government 'sparks chaos' with 'last minute' rules on Twitter

31 July 2020, 10:56

The new lockdown rules affect up to four million people
The new lockdown rules affect up to four million people. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

Labour has accused ministers of hitting a “new low” by announcing new lockdown rules for millions of people in northern England “late at night on Twitter”. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock unveiled the ban on households mixing indoors in posts on social media just after 9pm on Thursday, hours before they came into force at midnight. 

MPs and local officials complained of mass confusion and “chaos” in Greater Manchester, east Lancashire and west Yorkshire - the areas affected - with the “last minute” change. 

The new rules also ban members of two different households from mixing in pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues, but these businesses will remain open for those visiting individually or from the same household.

Mr Hancock told LBC the “targeted action” was needed immediately to tackle the “stubbornly high” rise in Covid-19 infections in the region. 

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, called for “urgent clarity and explanation” from Downing Street and support measures for local businesses. 

“No one would argue with putting in place local action to reduce the transmission of coronavirus,” he said. 

“But announcing measures affecting potentially millions of people late at night on Twitter is a new low for the government’s communications during this crisis.”

He added: “For all the bluster, government has failed to deliver a functioning track and trace system that would spot local flare ups like these.”

The Government issued a press release at around 11.30pm setting out greater detail on the new curbs, half an hour before their imposition. It has since emerged that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will host a press briefing at noon. 

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said he learned of the move on television. Shadow business minister Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central, called the announcement a "disaster" and “bolt out of the blue”.

"I've been inundated with questions that I don't know the answers to them," she said. 

Labour shadow foreign secretary, who is MP for Wigan, told Sky News: “I cannot describe to you the level of chaos that there was last night with this announcement. 

“Because the Government was essentially asking people to comply with the new rules in just a few hours time without any detail about what those rules were going to be.”

Activists and councillors questioned whether the rules were aimed at curtailing celebrations for Eid al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice celebrated by many Muslims by assembling family and friends for large feasts. 

Saima Afzal, a community inclusion activist and Blackburn councillor, said the Government "left it too late" to impose the “last minute” restrictions, before Eid began on Friday. 

But asked on whether the measures were announced late on Thursday night to stop Eid celebrations from taking place, Mr Hancock said: "No, my heart goes out to the Muslim communities in these areas because I know how important the Eid celebrations are.

"I'm very grateful to the local Muslim leaders, the imams in fact, across the country who've been working so hard to find a way to have Covid-secure celebrations.

"For instance celebrating Eid in parks where there's more space available and of course outdoors is safer than indoors."

The Muslim Council of Britain said prayers at mosques were not affected by the measures and could still go ahead."This has been confirmed by the Director of Public Health in Manchester and Number 10," a spokesperson for the organisation said.