(AP) — The British government
was accused Tuesday of reintroducing local lockdowns on the sly after it published new guidelines for eight areas of England
that it claims are hotspots for the coronavirus
variant first identified in India
Lawmakers and local public health
officials expressed surprise that they had not been informed of changes to the guidelines for travel and social interaction that the Conservative government published online last Friday, adding that the guidelines were not mandatory and that the mixed messaging could undermine efforts to keep the virus at bay by creating unnecessary confusion.
The government recommended in last week's updated guidance that people
within eight localities, including Hounslow in west London, Leicester, and the northwest towns of Blackburn and Bolton, should not meet indoors or travel outside their areas unless it is for an essential matter, such as going to work
The leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, accused the government of acting in an “utterly shameful” manner by failing to inform residents in affected areas.
“Local lockdowns are the wrong approach for public health and local economies,” he says.
In response, the government claims it was simply putting on record Prime Minister Boris Johnson
's guidance over the last few weeks during the spread of the so-called Indian variant, which critics say was sowed by an overly lax border
“We want the entire country to move out of these restrictions together, and we trust people to be responsible and act with caution and common sense, as they have done throughout the pandemic
minister Nadhim Zahawi told lawmakers.
He insisted that the onus was on individuals to take personal responsibility, and that the government intends to lift restrictions on a national scale.
In a joint statement, the directors of public health in the eight affected areas stated that government officials confirmed there are "no local lockdowns" and that everyone is working together to increase testing, vaccinations, and support for those who must be quarantined.
The government's strategy for easing lockdown restrictions over the last couple of months has been to lift restrictions on a national level, though it hasn't ruled out the possibility of local measures if necessary.
Restrictions have been lifted across England — and the rest of the United Kingdom — in recent weeks, as the number of coronavirus infections has dropped sharply as a result of a strict lockdown and the rapid rollout of vaccines. Among many changes, the most recent easing has seen pubs and restaurants
reopen to customers indoors, and the number of people allowed to meet up outdoors increased to 30.
The next easing is scheduled for June 21, and it is intended to include the removal of all social restrictions; however, Johnson has warned that it could be delayed if the new variant spreads widely; a decision on that date is expected on June 14.
Though new cases in the United Kingdom remain low at around 2,500 per day, compared to nearly 70,000 at the peak of the second wave in January, they have been increasing slightly in recent weeks.
This has raised concerns that the so-called Indian variant, which is thought to be more transmissible, is spreading at a time when restrictions have been relaxed and many younger people have yet to receive a vaccination dose.