Covid no-go zones: Boris Johnson imposes local lock-ins over panic at India variant surge


    Boris Johnson says vaccine appears effective against all variants

    Travel in and out of the areas is heavily urged against due to the rapid rise in new cases. Members of the public in the areas have been told they should not meet indoors and should avoid social contact.

    Bolton, Leicester, Kirklees, Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley and North Tyneside were all on the list alongside the London borough of Hounslow.

    The change in guidance was made on Friday on the Government’s website without an official announcement.

    Local MPs and councils have also been caught off-guard by the change in advice.

    The guidance is not currently law but is the closest England has come to a local lockdown since the gradual easing of restrictions starting in March.

    READ MORE: Indian variant hotspots: Which areas of England are affected?

    Local guidance has changed due to the surge in cases of the India variant

    Local guidance has changed due to the surge in cases of the India variant (Image: GETTY)

    When Boris Johnson outlined his roadmap back to normality earlier this year he said he was hopeful the plan would be “cautious but irreversible”.

    But, following the rise in cases of the Indian Covid variant, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has refused to rule out localised curbs.

    Asked on Sky News about the prospect on May 16, he said: “We don’t rule that out.

    “The approach we’re taking in Bolton and Blackburn is to absolutely pile in testing and vaccinations to try to get on top of this.”

    Cases of the mutant strain of the virus have surged with Public Health England data published on Thursday indicating there had been a 160 percent rise in just one week.

    On May 20 there were 3,424 cases of the strain compared to 1,313 cases the previous week.

    READ MORE: Germany bans British tourists over Indian variant fears

    Matt Hancock has not ruled out imposing local lockdowns

    Matt Hancock has not ruled out imposing local lockdowns (Image: PA)

    While evidence shows two doses of a coronavirus vaccine is successful at combatting the variant, there are concerns it can still spread among those with just one jab.

    The new guidance issued by the Government for the areas seeing the largest rises in cases states: “The new Covid-19 variant spreads more easily from person to person.

    “To help stop the spread, you should take particular caution when meeting anyone outside your household or support bubble.

    “In the areas listed, wherever possible, you should try to meet outside rather than inside where possible, keep two metres apart from people that you don’t live with (unless you have formed a support bubble with them).

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    Coronavirus in numbers latest

    Coronavirus in numbers latest (Image: EXPRESS)

    “This includes friends and family you don’t live with, and avoid travelling in and out of affected areas unless it is essential, for example for work (if you cannot work from home) or education.”

    The change in guidance without any official announcement has left those affected “gobsmacked”.

    Yasmin Qureshi, Labour MP for Bolton South East and shadow international development minister, said: “I was not informed of this and I understand nor was anyone else in Bolton.

    “I’m just gobsmacked. They’re making such an important announcement and they don’t even have the decency to tell us or tell our constituents.

    “This is typical of this Government’s incompetence.”

    Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey defended the change in guidance on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

    Vaccination rate: How many people have been vaccinated in your area?

    Vaccination rate: How many people have been vaccinated in your area? (Image: EXPRESS)

    She said: “The point is this is about focusing in on those communities where extra resource has gone in to try and help them tackle this, and that’s why it is more of a targeted communication focusing on those areas most at risk.

    “This is about having a sensible element, about recognising it is easier to transmit this virus when people are indoors.

    “We need to really focus on ventilation and just limiting ourselves as individuals where the risks of where we could perhaps either pass on the virus or pick up the virus.

    “So it is important we all take that responsible local action and we know that is particularly true in certain communities around the country right now.”


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