Indian Covid variant: Hotspots travel ban ‘lockdowns by the backdoor’


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Ministers have been accused of introducing local Covid restrictions ‘by the backdoor’ after new advice against travelling in and out of eight areas in England was published without an announcement.

The new guidance was shared online at Gov.uk on Friday, telling people to avoid travelling in and out Bedford, Blackburn and Darwen, Bolton, Burnley, Kirklees, Leicester, Hounslow, and North Tyneside, unless the journey is essential.

Addressing the Commons with an urgent question today, Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth described the advice as ‘local lockdowns by stealth’, and said it was ‘insulting’ to people living in those areas.

He told Vaccines Secretary Nadhim Zahawi that places such as Leicester, Bolton and North Tyneside had faced longer lockdowns than the rest of the country and had bore the brunt of the pandemic.

He went on to ask if families from those regions planning to travel to the coast or host friends and relatives in their homes would be blocked from doing so by the new rules.

Ashworth said: ‘Can the minister understand how upsetting it is, how insulting it is, to have new restrictions imposed upon us, local lockdowns by stealth, by the backdoor, and the secretary of state doesn’t even have the courtesy to come and tell us?

The eight Indian Covid variant hotspots where people are being told to avoid travel Metro Graphic

The Government has advised against travel to eight Indian variant hotspots (Picture: Metro.co.uk)

Jonathan Ashworth in the Commons

The Shadow Health Secretary said the guidance was ‘insulting’ (Picture: Parliament.tv)

‘Why was this guidance plonked on a website on Friday night and not communicated to everyone?

‘Why were local directors of public health and local authority leaders not consulted? Why weren’t MPs informed? And what does it now mean for our constituents?’

Ashworth then demanded that Health Secretary Matt Hancock withdraw the guidance immediately and hold a meeting today to produce a plan involving isolation support and enhanced contact tracing.

In response, Zahawi said the Government was ‘trusting people to be responsible and act with caution and common sense’ as restrictions across the UK come to an end.

An electronic notice board in Bolton town centre, one of the areas of the UK where the Covid variant first identified in India is spreading fastest. Picture date: Tuesday May 25, 2021. PA Photo. The Government has advised against all but essential travel and meeting indoors in eight areas of England where the variant is spreading fastest - Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, North Tyneside, Bolton, Leicester, Kirklees and the London borough of Hounslow. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson has said the advice is not statutory (Picture: PA)

He added: ‘Through acting quickly whenever the virus flares up and protecting people through our vaccination programme we can guard the incredible gains we have all made and get ourselves on the road to recovery.’

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman also stressed that the new guidance was ‘not statutory’ and said No 10 intends to move away from ‘top-down edicts’ as the threat of Covid lessens.

He said: ‘We have talked before about where we are at this stage in the pandemic in the UK, where we are able to move away from top-down edicts from the Government and start transitioning to a position where we have moved back to where the public are able to exercise their good judgment, as they have done throughout. We will continue to monitor the situation.’

Downing Street said there would be no extra financial support made available for the hospitality sector, local authorities or other businesses in the hotspot areas beyond what is already available.

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