The UK govt’s handling of the coronavirus crisis – and communication strategy – I think by all accounts has left a lot to be desired. But they really outdid themselves yesterday, introducing new last minute local lockdown restrictions for Greater Manchester and surrounding areas late last night – over Twitter… By Sarah Bradbury.
Hang on, I missed this…
Well, we don’t blame you. In what Keir Starmer has branded “a new low for the government’s communication”, the announcement of new local lockdown restrictions for some Northern regions came via a Twitter thread from Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s account just after 9pm.
The new rules, effective from midnight last night, say multiple households are no longer allowed to meet indoors or in private gardens in Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and part of West Yorkshire, affecting around four million people.
There is no end date specified for the new rules but they will be reviewed each week. New regulations will be signed to make them legally enforceable. There will be some exemptions such as those who have formed in a support bubble with another household.
What’s brought this on?
The swift implementation of restrictions are part of the govt’s whack-a-mole approach to stamping out spikes in cases. In 13 of the 19 affected regions cases had gone up in the last week, with 1,536 new cases recorded.
Hancock blamed the rise in the regions on “households gatherings and not abiding by social distancing rules.” He further told Sky News the action was “absolutely necessary”: “When you face a pandemic like this, it is important to move quickly if that’s what’s needed.”
How have people taken the news?
Not well, as you might imagine. Firstly, people are (validly) asking why the shock announcement came late at night from Twitter (are we taking cues on policy-making from the Donald Trump playbook now or what?). Even MPs were struggling to answer questions on how the rushed new rules would apply.
Secondly, there’s confusion on why there are new restrictions on meeting inside homes and gardens but not in hospitality venues such as pubs. While the advice states only single households must go to such venues in a group together, it seems likely it will be harder to social distance in a pub or restaurant full of strangers than in a home.
The rules are also seen to unfairly impact Muslim communities who would have been planning to gather to celebrate Eid today. As one Twitter user put it “imagine doing the same thing a couple of hours before Christmas”!
Hancock said his “heart goes out to them.” It will be allowed to attend a mosque or other place or worship but social distancing must be observed with people outside of a household.
Starmer further criticised the lack of an effective track and trace system which would have helped to spot and stamp out local flares up such as this one. However Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham backed the quick action, saying the rise in cases “doesn’t just relate to multi-generational households” but also a spike in cases in younger people.
What about Leicester?
The only other region to have had a local lockdown imposed is the City of Leicester. Restrictions there will be lifted from Monday, allowing pubs, cafes, bars and restaurants to reopen and people to go on holiday with their own household but leisure centres, gym and pools will remain closed and households still won’t be able to mix indoors.
Still not clear on the new rules? Manchester Evening News have put together a useful Q and A here.
Will you be impacted by the new rules? Get in touch with us to share your views.