Hounslow ‘stealth lockdown’ slammed as ‘ridiculous’ and ‘impossible’ to implement

·5-min read
 (Jeremy Selwyn)
(Jeremy Selwyn)

A “stealth lockdown” imposed on a London borough to combat the Indian Covid-19 variant was today slammed as “ridiculous” and “impossible” to implement.

Cllr Steve Curran, Leader of Hounslow Council, tore into the Government’s decision to issue fresh guidance for eight Indian variant hotspots, seemingly without consulting local directors of public health or town hall chiefs.

The new advice to control the B.1.617.2 mutations includes, where possible:

* Avoid travelling in and out of affected areas unless it is essential, for example for work (if you cannot work from home) or education.

* Meet outside rather than inside where possible.

* Keep 2 metres apart from people that you don’t live with (unless you have formed a support bubble with them), this includes friends and family you don’t live with.

* Get tested twice a week for free and isolate if you are positive.

* Continue to work from home if you can.

* Get vaccinated when you are offered it, and encourage others to do so as well.

Downing Street today stood by the guidance, emphasising that while it is not the law, “non-essential travel” is not encouraged.

However, Cllr Curran said: “For one of London’s most connected boroughs – with Heathrow on its doorstep, the M4 and A4 running through it, the Piccadilly Line, the main line from Waterloo, plus the North Circular via Kew Bridge - to try and limit travel within its borders is not only impossible, it’s a ridiculous idea.”

He added: “It is unbelievable that new guidance came to light only by checking the Government website.

“To date I have received no communication at all from the Government. This is another example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. It’s shambolic.”

A joint statement issued later in the day by directors of public health in the Covid hotspots of Burnley, Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen, Bolton, Kirklees, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside said they had met with government officials to confirm there were no travel restrictions.

It said: “There are no local lockdowns.

“In areas where the new Covid variant is spreading we are all working together to boost testing and vaccination and to support self-isolation.

“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.

“We will keep sharing that and working with national officials to make sure people understand what they need to think about as they go about their daily lives.”

The Government said on Tuesday evening guidance for the eight areas considered hotspots for the Indian variant of coronavirus is to be updated to make clear there are no local lockdowns imposed.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: "We will be updating the guidance for areas where the new Covid-19 variant is spreading to make it clearer we are not imposing local restrictions.

"Instead, we are providing advice on the additional precautions people can take to protect themselves and others in those areas where the new variant is prevalent."

In the Commons, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth had earlier urged the Government to withdraw the “stealth lockdowns” which he said were “insulting” for people in the eight areas, several of which have had to endure particularly long periods of restrictions.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “As the Prime Minister set out two weeks ago we’re urging people in these areas to take extra caution when meeting anyone outside their households or support bubble, including meeting outside rather than inside where possible, keeping two metres apart from people you don’t live with and that people should try to avoid travelling in and out of the affected areas unless it is essential.”

Downing Street said the Government had been upfront about the “extra risk” posed by the Indian variant.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said “Throughout we have been clear that people in these areas should recognise the extra risk posed by the variant and exercise their judgment.”

On the claims that local leaders had not been consulted, he added that “marketing assets”, such as posters and social media messaging, had been shared with local authority areas impacted by the new guidance.

No10 said it wanted to move away from “top-down edicts” as lockdown restrictions ease, and stressed it was for individuals to make a judgment on how to behave.

The spokesman stressed that the new guidance was “not statutory”.

The spokesman explained: “It is important to emphasise that this is guidance, these are not statutory restrictions placed on those local areas.

“We have talked before about where we are at this stage in the pandemic in the UK, where we are able to move away from top-down edicts from the Government and start transitioning to a position where we have moved back to where the public are able to exercise their good judgment, as they have done throughout.

“We will continue to monitor the situation.”

Downing Street said there would be no extra financial support made available for the hospitality sector, local authorities or other businesses in the hotspot areas beyond what is already available.

Sadiq Khan and other mayors whose areas are affected spoke with Mr Zahawi this morning.

The London Mayor said in a statement: “I raised the need for clarity on the Government’s guidance and support for those living and working in Hounslow, and also the impact of new guidance on Heathrow airport.

“In order to prevent the further spread of the virus, including variants of concerns, clear and timely communication with local leaders and public health officials is crucial. I’m pleased that the Minister agreed to take these concerns back to Government.”

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