Late yesterday following many calls over many days from eight local Councils and their public health leaders a Government announcement finally made it clear that the words they had placed on their own national website were incorrect. The areas affected are Bedford council, Blackburn with Darwen council, Bolton Metropolitan council, Burnley council, Kirklees council, Leicester council, Hounslow council and North Tyneside council. The new Government statement which is published here included the comment that they were not imposing local lockdowns but “are providing advice on the additional precautions people can take to protect themselves and others” in those areas. They changed the wording on their website to say people in those areas should “minimise” travel instead of “avoid” travel. “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,” a spokesman said. “This includes, wherever possible, trying to meet outdoors rather than indoors, keeping two metres apart from anyone you don’t live with and minimising travel in and out the area. These are not new regulations but they are some of the ways everyone can help bring the variant under control in their local area.” Directors of public health from all eight councils stated “Following the national coverage of recently revised guidance we have met with national officials and confirmed there are no restrictions on travel in or out of each of our areas: There are no local lockdowns.” The fact was that these 8 areas were concerned primarily because they had not been informed that the Government was publishing clear statements on their website. There is no indication that these local authorities are trying to reduce the risk of the Indian variant COVID. However before the statement arose late last night, two Ministers spoke in public and their statements were alongside the original website comments rather alongside the statement that the Government made late last night.
Yesterday Morning just after 8.30am as shown here Therese Coffey took part in the Good Morning Britain TV programme and she stated that there had been “extra communication on the ground” which was clearly a very incorrect statement at that time as the Councils were making it very clear that they had not been informed. As one of the broadcasters made it clear the issue was also that people in those areas or indeed across the rest of the nation had not been informed by the Government that certain areas where being locked down (or not being locked down). The fact that the words got placed on a website several days ago and the website did not get changed (until yesterday evening) when the local Councils raised their questions several days ago is deeply concerning.
Then yesterday afternoon just after 12.30pm Nadhim Zahawi made a statement on COVID-19 and as part of that he stated
However, we take these steps with vigilance and caution, staying alert to new variants that can jeopardise the advances we have made. We have come down really hard on the variant first identified in India wherever we have found it, surging in testing capacity and vaccines for those who are eligible. Over the past few days, we have extended this rapid approach to even more areas: as well as Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen, which the Prime Minister spoke about at his press conference on the 14th of this month, we are taking rapid action in Bedford, Hounslow, Burnley, Leicester, Kirklees and North Tyneside. As the Prime Minister set out two weeks ago, we are urging people in these areas to take extra caution when meeting anyone outside their household or support bubble, including meeting outside rather than inside where possible; keeping 2 metres apart from people they do not live with; and trying to avoid travelling in and out of the affected areas unless it is essential, for example for work—if a person cannot work from home—or for education.
It would seem very helpful if the words being presented by Ministers in public spaces would be consistent with what their website words are stating. It would also be very helpful if they would be in touch with the way in which other public sector agencies are communicating, both privately and publicly. However most importantly, they should not make statements on the same day as a statement from their own Government that is at odds with it. Particularly given that they are Senior Ministers and in one case he is accountable for the same Department that is supposedly making other public statements.