West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin criticises 'confusing' Government advice on travel to Covid-19 hotspots
The Mayor of West Yorkshire has accused the Government of causing “confusion, anxiety and concern” after it introduced travel guidance for Kirklees and seven other areas of the country with high Covid-19 infection rates, without announcing it publicly or consulting local leaders.
On Friday evening, the Government updated its website with a message which states people “should try to” avoid travelling in and out of these areas “where the new Covid-19 variant is spreading”, unless they need to for work, education or another “essential” reason.
It also states people should meet outside rather than inside “where possible” and remain two metres away from anyone they do not live with.
The advice applies to Kirklees and seven other council areas that have seen a recent spike in Covid-19 infections, including Bolton, Blackburn with Darwen, Hounslow and Bedford, which were each provided with surge testing and additional vaccine doses earlier this month due to concerns about the spread of the Indian variant, known as B.1.617.2.
West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin and Councillor Shabir Pandor, Leader of Kirklees Council, said they had not been informed about the new guidance and were seeking urgent clarification from the Government.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the guidance is “not statutory” and the government wants to “move away from top-down edicts” so people can “exercise their good judgement”.
Ms Brabin said: “To be honest, the community of Kirklees has absolutely suffered this last year. We have been in some version of restrictions for over a year.
“Businesses have gone bust, people have lost loved ones, they’ve not been able to see the people they care about and now a Friday tea time announcement that can change people’s lives - it just feels so disrespectful.”
She added: “"Testing, isolation and vaccination are the ways to effectively tackle local outbreaks, not punishing those communities by creating confusion, anxiety and concern.
"I spoke to Nadhim Zahawi this morning and I was grateful he apologised.
"I am now seeking urgent clarification from Government about support packages for those people who are now advised that they shouldn’t travel for work and we need clarity on what the criteria is for these restrictions and what is the roadmap out of them.”
Barry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield, said he was concerned the advice will cause “chaos and confusion” and people will “disregard it”.
He added: “People understand rules. Sometimes they don't like the rules, but they understand the rules.
“But this is advice that says please don’t come to Kirklees or leave Kirklees, it’s not a rule.
“We’ve got a big university and it’s a very important time of year for people visiting with parents and we’re an essential import-export route full of small businesses that have to move around - it’s a crazy situation.”
Speaking in Parliament, Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth accused the Government of introducing “local lockdowns by stealth” and urged it to withdraw the advice immediately.
While Jason McCartney, Conservative MP for Colne Valley, asked for clarification on travel advice for families during half term and support for hospitality in dealing with cancellations.
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues can continue to serve customers indoors and people can visit members of their family “as long as they follow the social distancing guidelines” and use "common sense".
He added: “We need to make sure we are vigilant, because this B.1.617.2 variant is something that is concerning us. We have to bring it under control by turbo charging vaccinations, surge testing, isolating and of course genome sequencing.”