Government accused of causing confusion over Indian variant travel guidance

The Government is under growing pressure to provide clarity on travel restrictions in eight areas of England worst affected by the Indian variant of coronavirus.

Guidance on the Government’s website says the public should avoid travelling in and out of areas where the variant is growing fastest, including Bolton, Blackburn and Darwen, Kirklees and Leicester, “unless it is essential”.

The change to the guidance appears to have been made on Friday without an official announcement, prompting criticism from MPs.

Layla Moran, chairwoman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, said updating the guidance without a proper announcement “is a recipe for confusion and uncertainty”.

Newly elected West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin added the change could cause “anxiety and confusion”.

The Manchester Evening News reported that public health officials in Bolton had not been informed of the change.

The guidance says travelling for work or education – if you cannot work or study from home – is considered essential travel.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

It covers the areas governed by Bedford Borough Council, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, Bolton Metropolitan Council and Burnley Borough Council.

Also included are Kirklees Council, Leicester City Council, the London Borough of Hounslow and North Tyneside Council.

Ms Brabin said she would be raising the matter urgently with vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi on Tuesday.

She tweeted: “If Govt are concerned we need clear guidance and support not advice that could cause anxiety and confusion.”

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Ms Moran said in a series of posts: “This is a major change to policy that will have a huge impact on people’s lives.

“Simply updating the Government website without an official announcement is a recipe for confusion and uncertainty.

“Local people and public health leaders in these areas need urgent clarity from the Government. Matt Hancock must come before Parliament and make a public statement to explain these new rules.

“It seems crucial lessons have still not been learnt about the importance of clear messaging during a pandemic.”

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A Government spokesman said: “Working with local authorities, we took swift and decisive action to slow the spread of the B1.617.2 (India) variant by introducing surge testing and bringing forward second doses of the vaccine for the most vulnerable.

“We provided additional guidance for those living in affected areas when we became aware of the risk posed by the variant, to encourage people to take an extra cautious approach when meeting others or travelling.”

It is understood the guidance was introduced for Bolton on May 14, although it was not mentioned in an official announcement about beefed-up testing measures in the area published on the same date.

Other regions were included in the essential travel guidance as data from surge testing became available.