Government has spread ‘confusion and chaos’ with new North East lockdown rules, local leaders say

George Martin
·3 mins read
Pedestrians wearing face masks or coverings due to COVID-19, walk in Newcastle city centre, north-east England, on September 17, 2020. - The British government on Thursday announced new restrictions for northeast England, the latest region to see a surge in coronavirus cases as Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned of a "second hump" in nationwide transmission. Residents in the northeast, which includes the cities of Newcastle and Sunderland, will no longer be allowed to socialise outside their own homes or support bubble from Friday onwards. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Pedestrians wearing face masks walking in Newcastle city centre. (Getty)

Local leaders in the North East have criticised the government for spreading “confusion and chaos” with its new local lockdown rules.

Health secretary Matt Hancock announced a tightening of measures for Northumberland, Newcastle, North and South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham on Monday.

Under the new rules his department said laws would ban inter-household mixing indoors, including in pubs and restaurants.

But local leaders criticised the policy, accusing the government of a “very knee-jerk” reaction to rising infections in the region.

Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle County Council, said on Tuesday morning: “The problem that we’ve got is not just that the secretary of state has made an announcement without any kind of understanding about the impact on affected businesses, and the potential for job losses.

Passengers wearing face masks on a train in Newcastle as face coverings become mandatory on public transport in England with the easing of further lockdown restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Passengers wearing face masks on a train in Newcastle. (PA)

“But also, by doing it in a very knee-jerk way, it means that we haven’t got the right communication messages in place locally, and as a result confusion and chaos spreads which actually undermines the very messages that we are trying to get across to the public."

Martin Gannon, the leader of Gateshead council, told the BBC: “We could have controlled [the virus]. We have the expertise here.

“We have the pathology labs and the technology. We have the resources, we have the people there able to do the work.

Read more: 'The virus doesn't care what time it is': Backlash over pubs curfew that could do more harm than good

“All we needed was the reagents and the kits supplied to us, rather than being sent away to national contractors. God only knows what they are doing with them.

“So it’s been the government’s failure, in terms of test and trace, which is getting us to this place, which means we’re now back in a situation where the virus is out of control. And, frankly, that makes me absolutely furious.”

Downing Street was unable to clarify the rules on Tuesday, with the prime minister's official spokesman saying: "The Department of Health are setting out the full details of the steps they announced last night later on today.

"It is the case that events are moving at speed and it's right that we can move quickly in relation to localised outbreaks working with local leaders to ensure that we have steps in place to help to slow the spread of the virus."

It comes as Tory MP Gillian Keegan admitted she did not know whether a new ban on meeting up in the North East will apply to pub beer gardens.

Asked about the details of the ban, the skills minister admitted on Tuesday: "I'm sorry I can't clarify that."

Keegan was later questioned on Sky News about the rules in different areas, and replied: "I'm not an expert."

Asked how normal people are meant to keep up with the rules when even she can't as a government minister, she said: "I don't represent the North East."

Labour MP Alex Norris said of Keegan’s apparent lack of knowledge of the rules: "It speaks volumes that even the government's own ministers don't know what's going on.

"This will do little to inspire public confidence in the North East and across the country.

"The Conservatives' incompetence is hampering our response to this pandemic."

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