The government has been accused of hitting ‘a new low’ in its communication strategy after tweeting the news about a lockdown in northern England just hours before it came into effect.
Labour leader Keir Sarmer said it was the right decision, but one that was handled ‘very poorly’.
People living in Greater Manchester and parts of east Lancashire and West Yorkshire have been banned from mixing with other households indoors from today, though they can still go to the pub and shops.
The surprise announcement was made at 9pm on Thursday, hours before hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the affected areas were due to start celebrating Eid with their friends and family.
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Sir Keir said: ‘It’s very important the government follows the data, that’s what I understand that they have done. That’s why we support their decision. That’s why I say as the leader of the opposition, please follow their advice.
‘The issue we have with the government is communication. Confidence is everything here. Poor communication, late at night without any clarity does not help with confidence.’
The Labour leader said data on a rise in cases in Greater Manchester had been available for weeks and the government could have made the announcement at a more appropriate time that was not late at night.
He said public confidence in government decisions was already at a low and communication about future local lockdowns needed to be improved.
Matt Hancock explained the decision in a thread at 9pm, but guidance was not published on the government’s website until after 11pm.
MPs across the impacted regions called for clarity, saying they were inundated with questions from constituents that ‘they could not answer’.
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy, who is Labour MP for Wigan, said she had been told that the restrictions were not limited to indoor spaces and meant people could not go to the pub or shops.
However, Manchester Central MP Lucy Powell said she believed the restrictions were a cautionary measure that only applied to visiting different households.
Matt Hancock attempted to clarify the government’s position in a series of interviews on Friday morning.
The new rules ban members of two different households from mixing in pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues, but these businesses will remain open for those visiting individually or from the same household.
When asked about why the lockdown only applied to households, Mr Hancock said evidence showed households gathering and not abiding by the social distancing rules was causing the virus to spread.
‘Actually we are not seeing as much transmission when people are going to their place of work or retail or other areas,’ he added.
However, he got into a muddle on live radio when asked whether 4.5million people in the newly locked-down north-west can visit friends outside the area, saying: ‘I’ll have to come back to you’.
Despite the confusion over how the lockdown was announced, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham agreed it was the right decision.
Appearing on Good Morning Britain, he said it only applied to households mixing because the pub was a more ‘regulated’ environment and ‘the evidence is, there has been evidence of the spread of the virus in gatherings in the home.’
He warned people that breaking the new rules could lead to more severe restrictions, saying: ‘There is a clear message being given about gatherings in the home and I do think people need to take notice of this.
‘If we don’t get a grip on this now, we would be facing much more severe measures later down the line and that is what we are trying to avoid.’
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