A minister has urged people in Kirklees to “act with caution and common sense” after the Government was accused of introducing lockdown restrictions by stealth.
Updated guidance appeared on the gov.uk website late on Friday night but no-one – including Kirklees Council and local MPs – was informed.
The guidance says that people in Kirklees should avoid travelling into or out of the district unless for essential reasons such as work or education.
Fears were raised about whether these restrictions were being imposed ‘by the back door’ but Nadhim Zahawi, the Covid vaccine deployment minister, told the House of Commons: “We must stay alert and we have come down hard on the Indian variant where it has been found.
“People should try to avoid travelling in and out unless for essential reasons such as for work where you can’t work from home and education.
“We want the whole country to move out of these restrictions together and we are trusting people to act with caution and common sense and make their own decisions.”
Mr Zahawi said the Government would take on the board the views expressed by MPs and local authorities and would “endeavour to improve our communications.”
Colne Valley MP Jason McCartney quizzed Mr Zahawi in the Commons. He asked about the travel advice and whether families could still go on short breaks during half-term; what support was in place for hotels and B&Bs which faced cancelled bookings; and when the Government was going to start using granular (localised) data rather “lumping” large areas together under restrictions.
In reply Mr Zahawi said the Government would look to use postcode-level data; pubs and restaurants “can continue” to serve seated clientele; and “if families have booked…they can visit family.”
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said it was “insulting” that local lockdown restrictions had been introduced by “stealth.”
He questioned why the updated guidance was “plonked on the website on a Friday night” when no local authority leaders or MPs were informed.
Mr Ashworth condemned the “latest lockdown fiasco” and demanded the guidance be withdrawn.
Labour MP Yvette Cooper described the advice as “chaotic” and said there was no clear advice on what people were allowed to do. She blamed the new restrictions on the Government’s failure to close the border quickly enough to prevent people from India bringing the virus into the UK.
Kirklees Council leader Shabir Pandor held a press conference at lunchtime on Tuesday with Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin.
In a statement afterwards Clr Pandor said: “The council was not notified about changes to the advice on travel in and out of Kirklees and we are seeking clarification from the government.
“Nevertheless, our message to people in Kirklees is clear. Rates of infection in Kirklees are high and we’re asking residents to keep themselves and their community safe.
“That means taking part in testing regularly and isolating when you need to. Limit your contact with people outside your household, keep social distancing and meet outdoors if you can. As soon as you are eligible, it’s really important to get vaccinated.”
The Indian variant has been identified in Huddersfield and infection rates in Kirklees were up 35% last week and are thought to be still rising. Rates in Kirklees are among the highest in the country.
Four new vaccination centres are being opened and Clr Pandor added: “Tomorrow (Wednesday) we will start surge testing in key locations across Kirklees. We are also working with NHS colleagues and government to deliver vaccinations faster and make them even more accessible to everyone in our community.
“If we work together, we will bring infections down and protect our community and our economy.”
Ms Brabin said her mailbox had been bulging and added: “We need clear guidance and support from the Government not advice that could cause anxiety and confusion.
“They didn’t inform local leaders, it’s another unfortunate example of the Government doing to us and not working with us.”
This is what the Government website says:
If you’re in an area where the new COVID-19 variant is spreading
This new variant is sometimes referred to as the variant first identified in India. It is spreading fastest in:
- Bedford Borough Council
- Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council
- Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council
- Burnley Borough Council
- Kirklees Council
- Leicester City Council
- London Borough of Hounslow
- North Tyneside Council
The new COVID-19 variant spreads more easily from person to person. To help stop the spread, you should take particular caution when meeting anyone outside your household or support bubble.
In the areas listed above, wherever possible, you should try to:
- meet outside rather than inside where possible
- keep 2 metres apart from people that you don’t live with (unless you have formed a support bubble with them), this includes friends and family you don’t live with
- avoid travelling in and out of affected areas unless it is essential, for example for work (if you cannot work from home) or education
You should also:
- Get tested twice a week for free and isolate if you are positive
- Continue to work from home if you can
- Get vaccinated when you are offered it, and encourage others to do so as well
You should get tested for COVID-19. This includes:
- Arranging to have a PCR test if you have symptoms of COVID-19
- Participating in surge testing in your local area
- Getting regular rapid tests if you do not have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19)
You should self-isolate immediately if you have symptoms or a positive test result for COVID-19. There is financial support if you’re off work because of coronavirus.