New government advice has emerged urging people to take “an extra cautious approach” in areas hit by the Indian Covid variant.
Eight areas in England have been identified as hotspots where cases of the strain, which originated in India, are growing fastest.
Local leaders have said “there are are no restrictions on travel in or out of each of our areas: There are no local lockdowns.”
But a statement from the councils said: “There are sensible public health precautions people can take as individuals in line with the sorts of advice we have all been following throughout the pandemic.”
People in such areas have been urged to avoid meeting indoors, contrary to the latest Covid rules which came into force on May 17.
Brits are also advised to avoid travelling in or out of these zones, which are listed below.
Cabinet minister Therese Coffey said people living in these areas, which includes Hounslow, should also consider whether a half-term break abroad “really is essential”.
Ministers were accused of bringing in “local lockdowns by stealth” after quietly slipping out the guidance online rather than making an official announcement.
However, Downing Street denied any local lockdown by stealth and said the latest moves were advice and not legal restrictions.
Where in England are the Indian Covid variant hotspots?
The Indian Covid variant is spreading fastest in eight areas across the UK which include:
Blackburn with Darwen
What should I do if I am in an Indian variant hotspot?
The latest coronavirus legal restrictions from May 17 remain in place and can be found on gov.uk under “what you can and cannot do.”
However, people in hotspot areas should also check additional advice on the page titled “if you’re in an area where the new Covid-19 variant is spreading.”
Can friends and family meet indoors?
The government is advising people in hotspot areas to “take particular caution” when meeting with anybody from another household or support bubble.
People are advised to try to meet outside rather than inside wherever possible.
Yet current coronavirus legislation allows up to six people or two households to socialise indoors in England.
What is the advice on social distancing?
The new Covid variant spreads more easily from person to person.
Therefore, people in hotspot areas are being advised to keep two metres apart from those who they do not live with unless they have formed a support bubble.
However, current Covid legislation allows for the public to decide whether or not to social distance with close family and friends, meaning it is up to individuals whether they hug or touch.
What is the guidance for travelling?
Government advice urged people to avoid travelling in and out of affected areas, except for essential reasons such as for education or work if you cannot work from home.
What is the advice on Covid testing?
People in hotspot areas are advised to take regular tests and to isolate if they test positive.
Testing advice includes:
Arranging to have a PCR test if you have Covid symptoms
Participating in surge testing in your local area
Taking two free Covid tests per week if you do not have symptoms
What about the Covid vaccine?
People in hotspot areas are being urged to get vaccinated when offered and to encourage others to do so too.
Those who have already been vaccinated are also urged to follow all of the latest advice.