Education minister Gillian Keegan was unable to clarify new Covid restrictions in BBC interview

Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen

Education minister Gillian Keegan has admitted she said she did not know the details of new Covid rules coming into effect in the North East of England.

When asked to clarity the situation in the North East adding she was "sure" people in the affected areas could "find out the answer".

Pressed during an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on how people are meant to keep up to date with the latest restrictions when ministers cannot, she said: “I’m sorry I can’t answer that question. I’m sure there are many people who could. I don’t represent the North East.”

ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke has more:

Her comments came ahead of Prime Minister Boris Johnson also getting as confused by the new Covid-19 rules in the North East of England that he helped create as those living under them.

In a speech in Exeter about skills, the he was asked to clarify the latest measures brought to stem a rising tide of coronavirus infections amid growing confusion at the changing rules.

What do those living under the new rules make of them?

In reply, Mr Johnson said the rule of six means you can only meet "six in a home, six in hospitality".

In the North East, he says, people must follow "guidance of local authorities".

As he understands it, Mr Johnson said, “it is not six outside”.

He later corrected his mistake in a tweet, saying he had "misspoke".

Downing Street had earlier admitted the Department of Health was still "setting out the full details” of the measures that were announced on Monday night.

Pressed about the confusion, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: “It is the case that events are moving at speed and it’s right that we can move quickly in relation to localised outbreaks working with local leaders to ensure that we have steps in place to help to slow the spread of the virus.”

Local leaders however have criticised the Government for not giving sufficient advance notice of the restrictions.

What are the rules for the North East?

“I think that the Department of Health have been engaging with local authorities, local public health bodies for a number of days in advance of the announcement being made,” the spokesman said.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner has branded Mr Johnson "grossly incompetent" after he failed to clarify the rules.

Education minister Gillian Keegan was unable to clarify whether households could mix in pub and restaurant gardens under new regulations. Credit: ITV News

Shadow health minister Alex Norris said: “It speaks volumes that even the Government’s own ministers don’t know what’s going on.

“This will do little to inspire public confidence in the North East and across the country.

“The Conservatives’ incompetence is hampering our response to this pandemic.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on Monday night that existing measures across parts of the North East were being tightened because of rising coronavirus infections.

Large areas of the North East are under local restrictions. Credit: PA

It had been illegal for two households to mix inside or in a garden, but until now it was only guidance that they should not meet at public venues, including restaurants and pubs.

From Wednesday, it will be against the law for households to mix in any indoor setting, but it remains unclear whether people can meet other households outdoors at pubs or restaurants.

The change in restrictions apply to Northumberland, Newcastle, North and South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham.The new rules will be enforced by law from 00:01 Wednesday 30 September, and those living in the North East will be subject to fines if the rules are broken.

Shadow Universities Minister Emma Hardy said it was becoming difficult for people to keep on top of the different local restrictions without proper communication.

"One of the weaknesses of this government has is a failure to communicate clearly what the rules are in what area for which groups of people," she told ITV News.

She said controlling the spread of the virus "came back all the time to test, track and trace."

"It's essentially important that we sort this out because if we don't we face further lockdowns and these lockdowns come at a huge economic cost.

"Businesses are very, very frightened about going under; people are losing their jobs. They has to be a better way forward than what this government are offering."

Addressing MPs in the Commons on Monday, Mr Hancock said: "Today I must announce further measures for the parts of the North East where we introduced local action a fortnight ago.

"Unfortunately the number of cases continues to rise sharply. The incident rate across the area is now over 100 cases per 100,000."

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Mr Hancock continued: "We know that a large number of these infections are taking place in indoor settings outside the home.

"And so at the request of the local councils, with whom we have been working closely, we will introduce legal restrictions on indoor mixing between households in any setting."

"We do not take these steps lightly but we must take them and take them now because we know that swift action is more likely to bring the virus under control and the quicker we can get this virus under control, the quicker we can restore the freedoms we all enjoy in the North East and across the country," he added.