James O'Brien reacts as Covid rules changed in his area without announcement

25 May 2021, 10:59 | Updated: 25 May 2021, 14:46

By Fiona Jones

James O'Brien gives his instant reaction after discovering on his way to work that his area is exempt from non-essential travel, despite the Government changing the guidance on Friday.

The Government has faced criticism from ministers for issuing new official coronavirus advice in eight parts of England without making an official announcement.

The guidance changed on Friday in areas where the India variant of Covid-19 is spreading fastest, including Bolton, Leicester, Kirklees and the London borough of Hounslow, where James lives.

LBC's Nick Ferrari confronted work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey over the clarity of the Government's Covid guidance, and she insisted the message was "really clear."

James reflected on the lack of "clarity and leadership" shown by "the fact that I live in one of the places where the [India Covid variant] is flourishing and I wasn't aware until I was in the car on the way into work this morning, that the official advice for the people that live in my part of London is not to undertake any non-essential journeys.

"I live in a borough where I'm being told not to undertake non-essential journeys and I didn't know - and if I didn't listen to news, and if I listened to music on the way into work I still wouldn't know."

James put the question to listeners: "Is it just a continuing absence of clarity and leadership, is it a more complicated or nuanced situation than I could currently comprehend?

"Or thirdly, is there just a weird news management going on where one arm of Government says 'do this, do that, do the other' and then the arm of Government that's charged with getting that message to the people has chosen not to do so for reasons...I can't fully grasp?"

He reflected, "I don't have a light at the end of the tunnel. I've had this quite a lot with coronavirus...confusion and lack of understanding is quite dispiriting."

He told listeners that he told he did a "genuine double-take at the radio" while driving into work from Hounslow and then being told that non-essential journeys are exempt to those in Hounslow.

"Any fears I had at the outset that this was my own idiocy or my own ignorance...and everyone else was aware of it - they're not."

The work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey also told LBC's Nick Ferrari: "We've been in constant contact with councils, local communities, this is about formalising the guidance on the website."

Conversely, 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."

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.