The Government has been slammed for announcing new coronavirus restrictions on parts of the north west England “late at night” and just hours before they came into force.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on Thursday evening that “immediate action” was needed across Greater Manchester and parts of east Lancashire and West Yorkshire to keep people safe.
The stricter lockdown measures, announced via Mr Hancock’s Twitter feed at around 9pm and later posted online, mean members of different households are not be able to meet indoors.
1/4 We're constantly looking at the latest data on the spread of coronavirus, and unfortunately we've seen an increasing rate of transmission in parts of Northern England.— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) July 30, 2020
“What about the people who aren’t on Twitter?”
The restrictions, which came into force at midnight on Friday, cover the whole of Greater Manchester, as well as the east Lancashire boroughs of Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Pendle, Rossendale and Hyndburn.
Residents in the West Yorkshire areas of Bradford, Calderdale – which includes the town of Halifax – and Kirklees – which includes the town of Huddersfield – are also affected.
Scottish National party MP Dr Philippa Whitford said: “Do you seriously think this is the way to announce such a huge #Lockdown – 10 o’clock at night to start at midnight?
“What about all those who aren’t on Twitter? Maybe if you hadn’t stopped #COVID19 daily updates – but then again, you’d have to try to talk sense!”
No one would argue with putting in place local action to reduce the transmission of coronavirus.— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) July 30, 2020
But announcing measures affecting potentially millions of people late at night on Twitter is a new low for the government’s communications during this crisis.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also suggested the announcement would have been better suited to a press conference.
He tweeted: “No one would argue with putting in place local action to reduce the transmission of coronavirus.
“But announcing measures affecting potentially millions of people late at night on Twitter is a new low for the Government’s communications during this crisis.
“When the Government ended the daily press conferences, they said they would hold them for ‘significant announcements’, including local lockdowns. It’s hard to imagine what could be more significant than this.”
Representatives of the affected areas also took issue with the timing and manner of the announcement.
Claudia Webbe, Labour MP for Leicester East where restrictions were introduced on June 29 and will remain, said: “If you are confused by the Govt message in relation to #LeicesterLockdown don’t worry you are not alone as the good people of Greater Manchester, parts of West Yorkshire & East Lancashire are confused too.
“Don’t worry if you missed it the Govt announcement was made on Twitter!!”
Narinder. Like you I haven’t a clue what’s going on. I don’t even know who’s taking the decision and they certainly don’t involve anybody who knows anything about our city #Leicester. Just hoping they decide to let us out of this crude city-wide lockdown. https://t.co/8BCL0L4QNc— Leicester City Mayor (@CityMayorLeic) July 30, 2020
Lack of planning and clarity
Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel said: “Government gave information very late and with a lack of clarity to local councils, MPs and it seems within the Department of Health.
“The lack of planning and clarity of what to do in different scenarios is breathtaking. Surely they planned these scenarios out!”
Before the announcement was made, Leicester Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said that he did not have “a clue what’s going on”.
He said: “I don’t even know who’s taking the decision and they certainly don’t involve anybody who knows anything about our city.”
Despite the confusion in the lead up to the announcement, some supported the Government decision to take action.
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham urged locals to remain “vigilant” and protect one another.
“Over recent days, there has been a marked change in the picture across Greater Manchester with regard to the spread of Covid-19,” he said.
“We have always said that we will remain vigilant and be ready to respond quickly should the need arise.
“I ask all Greater Manchester residents – young and old alike – to protect each other by observing these new requirements.
“They will be reviewed weekly; meaning the more we stick to them, the quicker they will be removed.”
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon also backed the Government’s decision, tweeting: “The UK Government is right to act quickly if they think the situation warrants it.
“But this is a sharp reminder that the threat of this virus is still very real. Please abide by all #FACTS advice and stay safe.”