A senior Government minister said she was “surprised” to hear local leaders declare that they were not told about fresh guidance calling on people in Indian variant hotspot areas to limit their travel and social interactions.
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said the updated guidance, affecting areas such as Bolton and Leicester, had not come “out of the blue”.
The updated advice issued on Friday – which is not law – was published on the Government website without an official announcement, encouraging people in areas including Kirklees and the London borough of Hounslow not to meet indoors in a bid to spread the halt of the highly-transmissible mutation.
People should avoid travelling into and out of the eight areas, with Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley and North Tyneside also on the list, while residents in the eight areas should also be tested twice a week, according to the Government advice.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the failure to alert local leaders was “utterly shameful”.
Blackburn’s director of public health Professor Dominic Harrison tweeted that local authority areas affected by the guidance were “not consulted with, warned of, notified about, or alerted” to the instruction changes.
North Tyneside’s director of public health Wendy Burke said the local authority had “queried” the information with the Department of Health and Social Care to “seek clarification”.
The Government, however, insisted that the recommendations were first issued on May 14 – with Boris Johnson urging people in the affected areas to be “extra cautious” – before being “formally” published online last week.
Cabinet minister Ms Coffey told Sky News: “The Prime Minister set out that we need to take extra caution in certain areas regarding the Indian variant.
“It is good practice to formally put that guidance on the record affecting those communities.
“We have been working in close contact, so I’m surprised to hear that people think this has come out of the blue – it hasn’t.
“It is about formalising on the record the guidance which we believe people can and should follow in order to make sure we tackle and don’t have more spread of the Indian variant.”
Ms Coffey urged people living in areas where the Indian variant is spreading to consider “whether it really is essential” for them to travel, including when going on holiday to a “green list” destination.
She said would-be holidaymakers “need to consider carefully the risks that they are under themselves” before making any journey abroad.
Ministers have come in for criticism for sowing “confusion” in the way the latest guidance, which has fuelled speculation about regional lockdowns being brought back in, has been issued.
Opposition leader Sir Keir tweeted: “Making a major change that will impact so many people without even telling them is utterly shameful.
“The Government needs to provide clarity, fast.
“Local lockdowns are the wrong approach for both public health and local economies.”
West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin said she expected Health Secretary Matt Hancock to explain to Parliament what is happening with the new guidance.
The Labour politician told BBC Breakfast: “It’s another example of the Government doing to us without working with us.
“It’s caused a lot of confusion. We were only alerted to it by journalists late last night.
“Unfortunately this is yet another example of the Government and their chaotic response to Covid.”