Covid Indian variant: Clarity urged amid 'confusion and uncertainty' over hotspot travel advice

The race between vaccine and virus is taking on a new urgency where the Indian variant is spreading more quickly, ITV News Political Correspondent Dan Hewitt reports

The government is advising people not to travel in or out of several Indian Covid variant hotspots, unless for essential reasons.

But local leaders and public health directors have said they were unaware of the guidance, Manchester Evening News reports.

According to the government guidance published online, people should "avoid travelling in and out of affected areas unless it is essential, for example for work (if you cannot work from home) or education".

It also advised people against hugging people they don't live with, suggesting that people from separate households should "keep two metres apart".

And people should meet outside rather than inside where possible, the government said.

The eight Indian variant hotspots identified are: Bedford, Blackburn and Darwen, Bolton, Burnley, Kirklees, Leicester, Hounslow, and North Tyneside.

The guidance published on was last updated on Friday, May 21.

ITV News Political Correspondent Dan Hewitt says the government appears to have changed the guidance in those areas.

But it is understood the government's position is that the guidance has not changed, and this has been the case since the authority set out risks of the coronavirus variant last Friday. People in those hotspots were advised to take extra precautions.

ITV News Science Editor says there has been a 'communication failure on behalf of the government'

Speaking on ITV's News at Ten programme, Science Editor Tom Clarke said the confusion with the guidance "appears to be a communication failure on behalf of the government".

He said: "According to them (the government), this is something they've been saying for about 10 days now - that we shouldn't travel to the areas where the Indian variant is growing the most."

He continued: "We knew they were saying, 'work from home if you can' - is a message that maybe got through when they first started seeing it (the Indian variant). But it wasn't communicated very widely.

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"What I think has surprised people is the advice that was spotted on their website to meet outdoors where possible, keep two metres apart, avoid travelling in and out of affected areas unless it's essential.

"The local authorities in those areas didn't seem to be aware of this advice. People that live there don't seem to be aware of it. I wasn't aware of it - I feel I'm fairly up on most of this stuff at the moment.

"That particular line of guidance was updated on Friday without much communication.

He added that there is "a lot of confusion" around the Indian variant among scientists about how worried we should be.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus has called on the government to provide “urgent clarity” on restrictions in areas where the Indian variant is spreading.

Layla Moran, who chairs the APPG on Coronavirus, said the apparent change in government guidance risked causing “confusion and uncertainty”.

She said: “This is a major change to policy that will have a huge impact on people’s lives. Simply updating the Government website without an official 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.

“It seems crucial lessons have still not been learnt about the importance of clear messaging during a pandemic.”