Covid-19: No local lockdown and no added restrictions and coming to areas affected by Indiant variant

Guidance for areas of the North West considered hotspots for the Indian variant of coronavirus is to be updated to make clear there are no local lockdowns imposed, the Government has said.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it would instead be issuing advice to those living in Burnley, Blackburn with Darwen and Bolton after ministers were accused of bringing in rules on socialising and travelling "by stealth".

  • David Greenhalgh, Bolton Council leader

No local lockdown or added restrictions will be imposed in any of the areas affected by the Indian variant of Covid-19.

The leader of Bolton Council, David Greenhalgh, said there had been a "degree of confusion" following government advice against all but essential travel in areas where the variant can be found.

It sparked a backlash from MPs and local government and health leaders, with one MP calling it 'lockdown-lite'.

But, speaking at a weekly press conference held by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, Mr Greenhalgh said he had spoken with the government, Public Health England and NHS colleagues to clarify the situation.

He said: "I am delighted to say after a series of calls with senior officials from both government, Public Health England and NHS colleagues as well, we are in a position to say with assuredness there is no added restrictions coming to Bolton. There is no local lockdown.

"The position in Bolton remains the same as it did at the time of the Prime Minister’s announcement 10 days or so ago, and that of course has come as considerable relief to myself, who has argued along with colleagues, about that local lockdowns do not work."

The news was later confirmed across all areas affected, and a joint statement has been released by directors of public health in places including in Burnley, Blackburn with Darwen, and Bolton.

The statement said: "Following the national coverage of recently revised guidance we have met with national officials and confirmed there are no restrictions on travel in or out of each of our areas: There are no local lockdowns.

"In areas where the new Covid variant is spreading we are all working together to boost testing and vaccination and to support self-isolation.

"There are sensible public health precautions people can take as individuals in line with the sorts of advice we have all been following throughout the pandemic.

"We will keep sharing that and working with national officials to make sure people understand what they need to think about as they go about their daily lives."

The Government was accused of causing confusion over the Indian variant travel guidance. Credit: PA Images

Questions were raised over government guidance, which appeared to tell residents in areas with a high number of cases of the B.1.617.2 strain of the virus, known as the Indian variant, not to leave those areas.

The guidance covers several parts of the UK where Indian variant is believed to be spreading fastest - Bedford, Blackburn and Darwen, Bolton, Burnley, Kirklees, Leicester, Hounslow, and North Tyneside.

Mr Greenhalgh said he had spoken to government officials and confirmed the guidance is advisory - and not legally binding.

He said residents should make their own decisions on where to travel - and do so 'safely and responsibly'.

Speaking about local lockdowns, Mr Greenhalgh said he will "continue to fight against them".

He added: "It, if anything, increases the spread and it encourages people to travel across boundaries, the virus does not adhere to local borough boundaries or local county boundaries as we find ourselves on the edge of Greater Manchester and Lancashire and we will do, I will do everything I can, to gift against local lockdown."

The Conservative leader urged Bolton residents to continue to follow the guidance around hand washing, face masks and keeping space between people, and added that the emphasis was now on vaccinations, and surge testing.

Bolton residents have been reportedly queuing for up to two hours to get a jab following the roll out of vaccinations and surge testing. Credit: PA Images

Andy Burnham said the updated Government guidance was a "fairly major communications error" which had caused "huge amounts of confusion".

He said: "It would appear guidance was reissued on Friday but has been amended and it would appear to put more emphasis around travel, hence the confusion that has been created.

"Nobody in our system was told about this change in the presentation of the guidance."

He added that the restrictions impacted all those living in Greater Manchester as many travel to and from the town for work and other appointments.