UK accused of reintroducing virus restrictions on the sly

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An electronic notice board advises local people to isolate and get tested if they have coronavirus symptoms, in the town centre of Bolton, England, Tuesday May 25, 2021. The British government on Tuesday is facing accusations of introducing local lockdowns by stealth after it published new guidelines for eight areas in England, including Bolton, that it says are hotspots for the coronavirus variant first identified in India.(Peter Byrne/PA via AP)

LONDON – The British government faced accusations Tuesday that it was reintroducing local lockdowns on the sly after it published new guidelines for eight areas of England that it says are hot spots for the coronavirus variant first identified in India.

Lawmakers and local public health officials expressed shock that they hadn't been made aware of the changes to the guidelines to travel and social interaction that the Conservative government published online last Friday. They also said the guidelines weren't mandatory and that the mixed messaging could undermine efforts to keep a lid on the virus by creating unnecessary confusion.

In last week’s updated guidance, the government recommended that people within eight localities, including Hounslow in west London, the city of Leicester and the northwest towns of Blackburn and Bolton, shouldn’t meet up indoors or travel outside their areas unless it is for an essential matter, such as going to work.

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.

In response, the government says it was just putting on the record the guidance that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has presented in the past couple of weeks during the spread of the so-called Indian variant, which critics say was seeded by a too-lax border policy.

“We want the whole country to move out of these restrictions together and we’re trusting people to be responsible and act with caution and common sense as they have done throughout the pandemic,” vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told lawmakers.

He insisted that the onus was on personal responsibility and that the government is still intending to take a national approach to lifting restrictions.