Matt Hancock has insisted that new localised lockdown rules for the North West are “crystal clear” – despite the sudden imposition of the new measures being described as a “disaster” by some opposition MPs.
Households in Greater Manchester – as well as parts of East Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire – were told late on Thursday evening that they would be banned from meeting one another indoors.
The announcement was made by the health secretary on Twitter, who wrote: “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.”
In a later tweet, Hancock added: “The spread [of the virus] is largely due to households meeting and not abiding to social distancing.”
As a result, new rules came into force at midnight which banned households in the affected areas from meeting each other inside their homes or in gardens. While pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues will remain open, two members of different households will not be allowed to meet up in them.
The change to lockdown measures – and the way in which they were announced – has sparked confusion, with many people questioning why pubs had remained open when other peoples’ gardens had once again become off limits.
Hancock insisted on Monday morning that the rules were “crystal clear”, telling Sky News: “We brought them in to target specifically the problems that we’ve been able to see through the data because we want to keep the control of the spread of this virus, we want to do that with the minimum impact on people’s lives.
“I appreciate these decisions do have significant impacts on people’s lives but we want to do it with the minimum impact.”
But in a series of tweets on Thursday night in the wake of the lockdown, Labour leader Keir Starmer described the government’s approach as “a new low for the government’s communications during this crisis.”
He continued: “When the government ended the daily press conferences, they said they would hold them for ‘significant announcement’, including local lockdowns. It’s hard to imagine what could be more significant than this.
“For all the bluster, government has failed to deliver a functioning track and trace system that would spot local flare ups like these.
“The people of Greater Manchester now need urgent clarity and explanation from the government - and there must be proper support for those businesses and people affected by any lockdown.
In his tweets on Thursday night, Hancock said the government had worked with “local leaders across the region”, but shadow business minister Lucy Powell said on Friday morning she was “none of the wiser” about the data that has led to widespread restrictions on parts of northern England, including in her own constituency.
Speaking to Times Radio, she described the way in which the government had announced the new coronavirus restrictions on parts of northern England as a “disaster”.
Powell added: “I’m the MP for Manchester Central, I live in Manchester, I follow the data extremely closely as a Member of Parliament and I’m still none the wiser about what the data is that has generated this action so swiftly across such a broad area.
“If we had a much better track and trace system in place we’d be able to see much more clearly some of the localised nature or where these transmissions are actually occurring, and take action more strongly in a more localised fashion rather than across such a broad area.
“We are still getting less than 50% of tests back within 24 hours and frankly that is just not good enough.”
“There’s a huge number of questions here and it’s not clear to me what the data is that is sowing such significant change over the last few days that such widespread measures are necessary, and I think it’s something that I should know,” she said.