The UK government has been accused of bringing in “local lockdowns by stealth” after issuing guidance urging people in hotspots of the Indian CCP virus variant to restrict their socialising and travel.
The updated advice encourages people in eight areas in England including Bolton, Leicester, Kirklees, and the London Borough of Hounslow not to meet indoors in a bid to halt the spread of the new variant, also known as B1617.2, which some experts say could be 50 percent more transmissible than the Kent variant.
The advice was published on the government website on May 21, but local health chiefs said they were neither consulted nor informed about it.
Keir Starmer, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, accused the government of behaving in an “utterly shameful” fashion by not informing people in areas affected.
“Local lockdowns are the wrong approach for both public health and local economies,” he said.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called on the government to withdraw the new advice.
During an urgent question in the House of Commons, Ashworth said many of the areas involved had “borne the brunt of the crisis these last 15 months” and felt “abandoned” by Westminster.
“So can the minister understand how upsetting it is, can he understand how insulting it is, to have new restrictions imposed upon us?” asked the Leicester South MP.
“Local lockdowns by stealth, by the back door, and the Secretary of State [Matt Hancock] doesn’t even have the courtesy to come and tell us.”
No 10 stressed that the guidance was “not statutory” and that the government wanted to move away from “top-down edicts” as lockdown eases.
Defending the government’s position in the Commons, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi, said Prime Minister Boris Johnson still intends to take a national approach to lifting restrictions.
“As the prime minister said, we want the whole country to move out of these restrictions together and we’re trusting people to be responsible and to act with caution and common sense as they have done throughout this pandemic and to make decisions about how best to protect themselves and their loved ones,” he said.
Since May 17, pub and restaurant-goers have been permitted to eat and drink inside and foreign holidays have been allowed.
But new figures show a slight rise in weekly registrations of deaths involving the virus in England and Wales.
In Bolton, one of the hotspots of the Indian variant, the hospital said its emergency department saw one of its busiest ever days on Monday and that it was braced for continued pressure.
PA and The Associated Press contributed to this report.