LOCAL leaders today effectively told residents to ignore the new Government advice for variant hotspots – and blasted ministers for sowing mass confusion.
Leicester Council urged people to continue following the national guidance while the boss of Bolton Council said their situation hadn’t changed either.
Last night it was revealed the Government had quietly changed its guidance to warn against entering or leaving eight areas where the mutation is rife.
It applies to Bedford, Blackburn, Bolton, Burley, Kirklees, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside.
The change in the advice has sparked a day of chaos about whether residents must follow new rules, with MPs railing against local lockdowns in all but name.
But during a press conference today Bolton Council leader David Greenhalgh said he’d had reassurances from Government there were no regional restrictions in place.
He said people should “just behave sensibly” and don’t need to cancel their holidays.
Leicester council echoed this, saying in a statement: “The new advice on the government’s website is just that, and we don’t have any evidence as to why people or businesses in Leicester should not continue to follow the existing national guidance.”
Downing Street insists the regions are not bound by law to follow this advice – and therefore won’t receive any more emergency cash.
Blackburn MP Kate Hollern accused the Government of rollout out “lockdown lite through the backdoor.”
She tweeted: “The guidance is likely to have major implications on businesses, schools and the hospitality sector and I’m furious that the Government hasn’t bothered to consult the local authorities involved.”
Tory Jake Berry, whose Rossendale and Darwen constituency is affected by the advice, complained about not being told beforehand.
And he slapped down No10 claims it did not amount to a local lockdown: “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, more often than not it is a duck.”
The new government guidance states: “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, wherever possible, you should try to meet outside rather than inside where possible, keep two 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, [and] avoid travelling in and out of affected areas unless it is essential, for example for work (if you cannot work from home) or education.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman stressed that the new guidance affecting eight Indian variant hotspot areas was “not statutory”.
The spokesman said: “It is important to emphasise that this is guidance, these are not statutory restrictions placed on those local areas.
“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.”
Yasmin Qureshi, Labour MP for Bolton South East and shadow international development minister, said: “I was not informed of this and I understand nor was anyone else in Bolton.
“I’m just gobsmacked. They’re making such an important announcement and they don’t even have the decency to tell us or tell our constituents.
“The least I would expect is a letter or email from (Matt Hancock) or his office as a matter of courtesy.
“Further and more importantly, my constituents needed to know. Many will have planned for the long weekend, bought tickets, made arrangements.
“And it’s still not clear if this is advisory or legally obligatory. This is typical of this Government’s incompetence.”