Last week, the Government updated its coronavirus guidance in England in eight areas where a Covid-19 variant of concern first identified in India is spreading fastest.
Officials said areas including Bolton, Leicester Kirklees, and the London borough of Hounslow were hardest hit and people there should not meet indoors.
However, the change to the guidance was made without an official announcement – some alterations may have been made as early as 14 May – which caused concern for many MPs, who accused the Government of bringing in rules on socialising and travelling “by stealth”.
Now the Government has said it will be updating guidance to make it clear that lockdown measures are not being imposed for eight areas considered to be hotspots for the Indian variant of Covid-19 in England.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s important to say there are no new local lockdowns, no change in the law – the law is the same throughout England with regards to coronavirus."
Here is everything you need to know about it.
Can I travel to Leicester?
New advice, which the Government has said is not new regulations, aims to highlight “additional precautions” residents can take, such as meeting others outdoors rather than indoors, staying two metres apart from people not in the same household, and minimising travel in and out of the area.
The change to the guidance – which is not law – says the public should avoid travelling in and out of areas where the so-called Indian variant is growing fastest, “unless it is essential”.
Leicester is just one of the eight areas affected by the new guidance – which is not law – along with Bedford, Bolton, Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, the London borough of Hounslow, Kirklees, and North Tyneside.
The guidance says travelling for work or education – if you cannot work or study from home – is considered essential.
People in the eight areas should also be tested twice a week, according to the Government advice, and should not meet indoors.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: “We’ve updated the guidance online to make it clearer that these are not local restrictions and we do acknowledge the confusion this caused.”
Can I go on holiday if I live in Leicester?
People living in areas where the Indian variant is spreading should consider “whether it really is essential” for them to travel, the Work and Pensions Secretary told ITV’s Good Morning Britain earlier this week.
Asked whether a family from Leicester should go ahead with half-term holiday plans to a “green list” country, Therese Coffey said: “I’m not going to give individual travel guidance on some hypothetical situations to people in different parts of the country.
“The guidance is very clear that people need to consider whether it really is essential."
Coffey said the Government is still working towards lifting all coronavirus restrictions next month, despite the issuing of the fresh guidance to some areas calling on people to limit their interactions.
The Work and Pensions Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think 21 June is still very much under consideration."
What has the Government said?
A Government spokesperson said: “Working with local authorities, we took swift and decisive action to slow the spread of the B1.617.2 (India) variant by introducing surge testing and bringing forward second doses of the vaccine for the most vulnerable.
“We provided additional guidance for those living in affected areas when we became aware of the risk posed by the variant, to encourage people to take an extra cautious approach when meeting others or travelling.”
Therese Coffey said it had been “sensible” to issue additional guidance to local communities with the most cases of the Indian variant.
The Work and Pensions Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “The point is this is about focusing 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.
Coffey said she was “surprised” to hear local leaders declare that they were not told about fresh guidance calling on people in Indian variant hotspot areas to limit their travel and social interactions, and said the updated guidance had not come “out of the blue”.
Grant Shapps admitted the communications around the local guidance “could have been clearer”.
“I think it would also be churlish not to say that the communications could have been clearer and this was in essence simply guidance or advice just to remind people living in areas where the level happens to be quite a lot higher than the national average of the sensible things to do.”
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