The localized action – combined with a threat of further restrictions on British travelers to France – will be a blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s efforts to reopen the British economy after three lockdowns and its deepest recession in 300 years.
After a rapid increase in variant cases from India, Johnson warned the country is now in a tight race to get the population vaccinated faster than the virus can spread.
“People should try to avoid traveling in and out of affected areas unless it is essential, for example, obviously for work,” Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi told parliament on Tuesday. common sense. “
The UK has one of the most successful Covid vaccination programs in the world, with more than 70% of people now having received at least one vaccine.
Johnson officials have pointed to data showing that a comprehensive vaccination program is effective against the variant first identified in India, but the spread of the new strain remains the biggest potential stumbling block for the full reopening of economy on June 21. variant data before deciding whether the national restrictions can be lifted on schedule next month.
The Indian strain is also worrying officials in neighboring France, where the government will likely decide on Wednesday whether further restrictions are needed at its border with the UK to prevent its spread. Germany has also said it will impose a two-week quarantine on those travelers, even if they test negative for Covid.
The UK is trying to argue to France that further restrictions are not needed, citing the large part of its population vaccinated, a person familiar with the talks said.
French Foreign Ministry spokespersons did not return several requests for comment. A British government spokesperson did not immediately respond to calls for comment.
In the UK, the government has been accused of introducing ‘local backdoor locks’ with new guidelines against movement to access points, which were released without fanfare online at the end of the week. last but did not attract the attention of local leaders for several days.
“Why was this guidance posted on a website Friday night and not communicated to everyone? Jonathan Ashworth, the opposition Labor Party health spokesperson, which represents the Leicester South district, asked Zahawi in Parliament.
“Can the minister understand how upsetting it is, can he understand how insulting it is to see us impose new restrictions?” Ashworth continued. the courtesy of coming and telling us. ”
Andy Burnham, Labor mayor of Greater Manchester, called on ministers to issue urgent clarification ahead of the bank holiday weekend. Schools were unsure whether travel could take place and amateur sport had been plunged into chaos, Burnham said at a press conference.
The dispute risks reigniting regional tensions last year after Johnson forced Greater Manchester into a localized lockdown due to a virus spike in the region. Furious local leaders accused the government of punishing the north of England to protect the southern economy and demanded more money to support local businesses.
David Greenhalgh, the Conservative leader of the Bolton council, said he had been reassured by the central government that the new guidelines were aimed at highlighting personal responsibility in a Covid hotspot, rather than imposing new restrictions.
Johnson’s official spokesperson Max Blain dismissed questions about whether the government could have better communicated its changes and said people should use their judgment.
“We’ve made it clear that people in those areas should recognize the added risk posed by the variant,” Blain told reporters on Tuesday. “We are in contact with the local authorities and this will continue. “
Blain also dismissed the idea of the government stealthily imposing local lockdowns, saying the current guidelines are “substantially different” from legal restrictions previously in place.
“It is important to stress that these are advice, they are not statutory restrictions imposed on these local areas,” he said.
Blain said there would be no additional financial support made available for the hospitality industry, local authorities or other businesses in affected areas beyond the assistance already available.