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UK government denies local lockdowns ‘by stealth’

Published: (Updated: ) in European News by .

A change in advice for some parts of England was not accompanied by a public information campaign.

LONDON — The U.K. government has denied it is imposing local lockdowns by the backdoor after failing to publicize changes to health guidance in areas affected by the so-called Indian variant of coronavirus. 

Advice was published online on Friday warning against meeting indoors and nonessential travel to six areas of England: Kirklees, Bedford, Burnley, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside. 

The guidance issued by the Cabinet Office urges “an extra cautious approach” in these locations, but it was not accompanied by any public information campaign or press conference.

Similar advice against travel and indoor mixing was issued for Bolton in Greater Manchester and nearby Blackburn with Darwen on 14 May.

After summoning a minister to the Commons to provide an explanation, Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the directions to be withdrawn, saying it was “insulting” to have “local lockdowns by stealth.”

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the government was taking “rapid action” in COVID hotspots which included “urging people in these areas to take extra caution when meeting anyone outside their households or support bubble.”

The prime minister’s official spokesman insisted the latest advice was “substantially different” to previous lockdowns and the emphasis was on encouraging the public “to exercise their good judgement.”

Local leaders, however, have complained they were not consulted beforehand. Yasmin Qureshi, Labour MP for Bolton South East, said she was “gobsmacked” to learn of the guidance, while Tory MP Chris Green also suggested he had not been briefed in advance. 

Qureshi and another neighboring MP, Mark Logan, called on the government to prioritize surge vaccinations above tougher restrictions after POLITICO reported last week that local lockdowns were under consideration.

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The Indian variant is now the dominant strain in certain parts of England. Bolton recorded 451 overall cases per 100,000 people in the week to May 20, the highest in the country.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service: Pro Health Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharma and more, our specialized journalists keep you on top of the topics driving the health care policy agenda. Email for a complimentary trial. 


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