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Government's northern lockdown late-night announcement branded 'shambolic'

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The Government has come under fire for announcing new coronavirus restrictions covering parts of north west England via Twitter “late at night” just hours before they came into force.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on Thursday evening that “immediate action” was needed across Greater Manchester and parts of east Lancashire and West Yorkshire to keep people safe, banning people from different households from meeting indoors.

But the fact the stricter measures were announced via Hancock’s Twitter feed at around 9pm and later posted online has attracted criticism.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said: “No one would argue with putting in place local action to reduce the transmission of coronavirus.

“But announcing measures affecting potentially millions of people late at night on Twitter is a new low for the government’s communications during this crisis.

“When the government ended the daily press conferences, they said they would hold them for ‘significant announcements’, including local lockdowns. It’s hard to imagine what could be more significant than this.”

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted: “The new measures that were introduced late last night on stopping the spread of #coronavirus to millions of people including my constituents was sneaked out and has caused confusion despite what the Heath Secretary has said today. Not acceptable to announce via twitter in a rush.”

Manchester City Councillor Pat Karney tweeted: “It’s 12 midnight and Manchester Council have new legal powers to enforce the new regulations we heard about 30 mins ago.

“You won’t stop the virus if we have make it up as we go along Government.”

Shadow business minister Lucy Powell described the way in which the Government had announced the new coronavirus restrictions on parts of northern England as a “disaster”.

Speaking on Times Radio, the MP for Manchester Central said: “I mean announcing them two hours before they come into effect is a bit of a bolt out of the blue.

“With no one around to be able to answer some of the basic questions, I really think is not the way to build confidence and to take people with you and maximise compliance with these steps.”

Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel said: “Government gave information very late and with a lack of clarity to local councils, MPs and it seems within the Department of Health.

“The lack of planning and clarity of what to do in different scenarios is breathtaking. Surely they planned these scenarios out!”

Scottish National party MP Dr Philippa Whitford said: “Do you seriously think this is the way to announce such a huge #Lockdown – 10 o’clock at night to start at midnight?

“What about all those who aren’t on Twitter? Maybe if you hadn’t stopped #COVID19 daily updates – but then again, you’d have to try to talk sense!”

Politicians in Leicester, where restrictions were introduced on June 29, shared their frustrations with the situation.

Claudia Webbe, Labour MP for Leicester East, said: “If you are confused by the Govt message in relation to #LeicesterLockdown don’t worry you are not alone as the good people of Greater Manchester, parts of West Yorkshire & East Lancashire are confused too.

“Don’t worry if you missed it the Govt announcement was made on Twitter!!”

The latest restrictions, which came into force at midnight on Friday, cover the whole of Greater Manchester, as well as the east Lancashire boroughs of Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Pendle, Rossendale and Hyndburn.

Residents in the West Yorkshire areas of Bradford, Calderdale – which includes the town of Halifax – and Kirklees – which includes the town of Huddersfield – are also affected.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham urged locals to remain “vigilant” and protect one another.

He said: “Over recent days, there has been a marked change in the picture across Greater Manchester with regard to the spread of Covid-19.

“We have always said that we will remain vigilant and be ready to respond quickly should the need arise.

“I ask all Greater Manchester residents – young and old alike – to protect each other by observing these new requirements.

“They will be reviewed weekly; meaning the more we stick to them, the quicker they will be removed.”

WHO Special Envoy Dr David Nabarro told LBC he recognised that people are frustrated, but he said measures are necessary to ultimately prevent deaths.

He said: “Unless you are rapid and robust when you see early signs of numbers climbing, you really are at risk of a further massive level of illness and deaths and that’s the last thing that anyone wants anywhere.”

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