'No restrictions' on travel in or out of North Tyneside says council after government meeting
There are no restrictions on travelling in or out of North Tyneside, it has been confirmed.
North Tyneside Council said there would be no local lockdown in the area following confusion over government guidance which emerged this week.
Clarification on Tuesday, May 25, came after a meeting was held between authorities affected by the fast-spreading Indian variant of Coronavirus and government representatives.
Wendy Burke, Director of Public Health for North Tyneside, 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 North Tyneside. 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.”
New government guidance advising people to avoid travelling in or out of North Tyneside and other hotspots where the latest variant has become a concern came to the attention of leaders this week.
It appeared that the guidance was published on the government website on Friday 21 May, however no official announcement about the change in guidance was made.
Downing Street said the government had been upfront about the "extra risk" posed by the Indian variant, adding that posters and social media messaging had been shared with local authority areas impacted by the new guidance.
However, Ms Burke confirmed that the council there had been "no communication" to the authority, residents or businesses of the latest guidance.
Speaking on Tuesday morning, she said that although it was announced on Wednesday last week in Parliament that North Tyneside would be subject to enhanced testing and vaccinations, there was "no indication it would come with any additional restrictions".
"Completely in the dark"
North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon said that she, public health officials, and council bosses were left "completely in the dark".
The Labour MP said: "Since we were told about the variant, the council has been working to get the test sites set up, they are working with GPs to try and get people who have not yet been vaccinated to come forward.
"They are doing everything they possibly can and now they get this dropped on them without any warning.
She accused the government of being "negligent towards the local authorities" and questioned whether latest advice would cause panic.
Government: "Not statutory"
Responding to the confusion, the Prime Minister's official spokesman told reporters: "Throughout we have been clear that people in these areas should recognise the extra risk posed by the variant and exercise their judgment.
"The Prime Minister talked about this during his press conference on May 14, Government has reiterated a similar message since. We are in contact with local authorities and that will continue."
They also 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."
Downing Street said there would be no extra financial support made available for the hospitality sector, local authorities or other businesses in the hotspot areas beyond what is already available.
"Disproportionate for North Tyneside"
Norma Redfearn CBE, the Elected Mayor of North Tyneside, condemned the guidance as "disproportionate" for the area because of the testing and vaccination measures that were in place.
She said: “What matters most to me, is keeping the residents of North Tyneside safe and making sure they have the right information to make the right decisions.”
Every adult in North Tyneside asked to take a test in bid to stop spread of Indian variant of Covid-19
Since the update to the Government website became apparent, the Tyne and Wear Metro clarified their stance on the new travel guidance for North Tyneside.
They said: "Metro and Ferry services will continue to operate as normal. Please regularly sanitise your hands, wear a face covering unless you are exempt, and keep your distance where possible. On your journey, open a window to increase ventilation, where possible."
North East MPs Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North, Labour) and Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham, Labour) took to Twitter to express their feelings towards the move.
Surge Testing and Vaccinations
There have been around 40 confirmed cases of the Indian variant found in North Tyneside.
On Wednesday 19 May, Matt Hancock announced that there would be surge testing and fast-tracked vaccinations in North Tyneside amid concerns over an outbreak of the Indian variant of the coronavirus in the area.
A mobile vaccination centre was launched in Shiremoor on Tuesday morning, May 25, as part of the plans to tackle the rising number of cases.
Since the announcement last week, three surge testing sites have been launched in the area.