UK Covid live news: minister rejects claims travel advice for England’s Indian variant hotspots came ‘out of the blue’

Good morning. Last night it emerged that official government guidance has been changed in relation to eight places in England where the Covid variant first identified in India is believed to be spreading fast, and people are being advised not to travel into or out of these areas unless it is essential. Only this was never publicised, and so no one knew until journalists noticed the update on the relevant government web page. Our story about this is here.

My colleague Helen Pidd has described it as lockdown-lite.

Helen Pidd

This is basically local lockdown-lite: taking away freedoms from hundreds of thousands of people without telling them. And yes it’s guidance, not law, but this will cause huge anguish in Bedford, Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley, Kirklees, Leicester, North Tyneside & Hounslow.

May 24, 2021

It might also be the worst example of a public health initiative in the pandemic – because there is no point in issuing advice to the public if it is not publicised, and this was never press released, or publicised by ministers.

But the government has argued that the guidance is just an extension of what Boris Johnson said at a No 10 press conference on 14 May, when he urged people living in Bolton, Blackburn and other areas affected by the variant to be “extra cautious”. (He did not say anything about how they should limit travel in and out of town.)

This morning Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, referenced this when she claimed the new guidance “hasn’t come out of the blue”. She told Sky News:

The prime minister set out that we need to take extra caution in certain areas regarding the Indian variant. It is good practice to formally put that guidance on the record affecting those communities.

We have been working in close contact, so I’m surprised to hear that people think this has come out of the blue – it hasn’t.

It is about formalising on the record the guidance which we believe people can and should follow in order to make sure we tackle and don’t have more spread of the Indian variant.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: The ONS publishes data on the impact of Covid and Brexit on trade, a report on wellbeing, a report on the impact of Covid restrictions on business, and the weekly death figures for England and Wales.

9.30am: Boris Johnson chairs cabinet.

12pm: Downing Street is expected to hold its daily lobby briefing.

12.30pm: Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccine deployment minister, responds to an urgent question in the Commons.

3.30pm: Liz Truss, the minister for women and equalities, gives evidence to the Commons women and equalities committee.

Politics Live has been a mix of Covid and non-Covid news recently, and that is likely to be the case today. For more Covid coverage, do read our global live blog.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.


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