Words: Richard Beecham
The Government’s introduction of new Covid guidance for areas struggling to contain the Indian variant has been described as “an absolute mess” by one of the city’s leading virologists.
It follows an update to the Government’s own website on Friday teatime, which listed Kirklees among a handful of districts where people are advised not to travel in and out of the area, and people should avoid entering each others’ homes.
Leeds City Council said it was “seeking clarification” on what this meant for the district, as it is one of several that share a border with Kirklees.
The change to the guidance – which is not law – appears to have been made by the Government without an official announcement, and both Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin said they were not consulted about the changes.
It is also unclear as to whether this guidance is likely to spread to neighbouring local authorities, such as Leeds.
“This is an absolute mess,” said University of Leeds virologist Dr Stephen Griffin. “I don’t know what they are thinking.
“It remains to be seen whether or not the measures will be able to successfully contain this virus. Some of the areas under these measures is levelling off, which is encouraging.
“Are these measures necessary? The answer is probably yes. At the moment, we don’t know whether this will be a major problem on a nationwide scale, but it is on a local scale.
“They say this is not something that contravenes their fourth test – I find this to be mindboggling. They say they will reconsider their options if this happens, and I’m seeing no evidence of that. It’s a case of dates rather than data.
“If you carry on on a national level unlocking and enjoying their freedoms, that is going to mean there is a chance of this spreading. If you’re not keeping people’s movements in check, how will you stop it spreading?
“I’m not saying it will, but there is a chance it will. They seem to be relying on vaccines as a safety net.
“If you’re straight with people, great, but you can’t impose restrictions like this without clear communication. If it’s only guidance, will people comply with it or understand what they are supposed to do.”
“It’s not the case that because all the older people have been vaccinated that nobody will be in hospital. The vaccines are the way out of this – it can be sorted out by the end of the year if they get it right.
“But you don’t want to do this while it is rising.”
A Leeds City Council spokesperson said: “We are extremely disappointed that the government failed to inform us regarding the updated guidance for Kirklees and other areas. We are now seeking clarification for what this means locally.
“Leeds shares a border with our West Yorkshire partners in Kirklees and plenty of people move between the two areas for work, home and leisure.
“Meanwhile, we would urge people to please remain vigilant and take up the vaccine when called by the NHS. We can all help keep cases as low as possible by taking care to observe the basic hygiene around hands, face and space.”
Comments from the council and Dr Griffin followed a press conference in Dewsbury held by West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin.
She said: “It is based on Kirklees at the moment. It is concerning that we still have stubbornly high levels of infection, but our hospitalisation has fallen and that is something to celebrate. The only way through this is with vaccinations.
“I had hoped the government had learned from their mistakes during this pandemic and would now prioritise working in partnership with local areas to give communities clarity on what they are being asked to do, why they are being asked to do it, and how they will be supported.
“Updated guidance, slipped out on a Friday teatime on the cabinet office website, is, frankly, shocking.
“We need to remember that this is people’s lives and livelihoods: these areas have been under some form of restrictions for over a year now.
“Testing, isolation and vaccination are the ways to effectively tackle local outbreaks, not punishing those communities by creating confusing, anxiety and concern.
“I spoke to (vaccines minister) Nadhim Zahawi this morning, and I was grateful he apologised.”
The Department of Health have been contacted for a comment.