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At numerous points during the coronavirus pandemic, the government has been accused of providing mixed messaging about lockdown measures.
In recent days it has come under such criticism again after new restrictions were imposed in parts of northern England on Friday following fresh COVID-19 outbreaks.
Under the rules, a household in affected areas is still allowed to visit a pub. They can also sit in a restaurant and enjoy chancellor Rishi Sunak’s “eat out to help out” half-price meals policy, which was introduced on Monday.
In both of these indoor settings, the risk of coronavirus transmission is higher than outdoors.
At the same time, however, the rules state people must not sit in the garden of a friend or family member – where the chances of being infected are extremely slim.
The disparity demonstrates again that the government is putting the UK’s economic recovery at the heart of its coronavirus strategy, by allowing businesses to remain open while trying to encourage social distancing.
Such inconsistencies have led to sharp criticism of the government.
Since the restrictions were imposed in Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire on Friday:
Wigan MP and shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said “the way the government has announced this has been an absolute shambles and made it harder to follow advice”
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham criticised the government for not publishing the exact rules immediately after the announcement was made on Thursday night
Francis Crick Institute director Sir Paul Nurse suggested the government is not treating the public like adults
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Why were the measures introduced?
The government said it identified fresh coronavirus outbreaks in the following areas: City of Manchester, Trafford, Stockport, Oldham, Bury, Wigan, Bolton, Tameside, Rochdale, Salford, Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, Rossendale, Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees.
Restrictions were imposed to control the spread of the virus in these areas, though the decision has since been labelled “rash” by a University of Oxford professor.
Prof Carl Henegehan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, said the figures were skewed by delayed test results that, when plotted by the date the test was taken, showed no overall alarming rise.
What you can and can’t do
You can go to an indoor public venue – such as a pub, restaurant, community centre or place of worship – but it must not be with people from other households
You can meet up to six people from multiple households in outdoor public spaces, but this does not include private gardens
You cannot invite friends or family into your home for purposes such as childcare, though single adult “support bubble” networks remain unaffected
You can invite people into your home if it’s part of their work, for example cleaners, nannies and repair workers
You can continue to send your child to early years or childcare settings
You can go to work
You cannot visit friends or family in care homes, apart from in exceptional circumstances
You can travel outside the lockdown area to attend a wedding or funeral
You can travel in a car with someone from another household, though people should “face away from each other” and open windows
Anyone who breaks the rules could be fined £100, with this doubling for subsequent offences.