The government has updated its advice on travel for residents of eight areas of England worst-affected by the so-called Indian variant of Covid-19 following widespread criticism of further mixed messaging on travel rules.
Downing Street on Tuesday (25 May) denied trying to impose local lockdowns "by stealth" after several local authorities and their respective MPs said the changes, published quietly on 14 May, came without warning or consultation.
Initially, people living in Bolton, Blackburn, Kirkless, Bedford, Burnley, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside were advised to avoid all non-essential travel.
This was later amended to ask people to minimise travel in and out of their local areas. Additionally, people have been asked to strictly observe social distancing of two metres and meet people from other households outdoors.
A government spokesperson said ministers amended the advice "to make it clearer we are not imposing local restrictions", the BBC reports.
They added the aim was instead to provide advice on additional precautions people can take to protect themselves and others in areas where the new variant of Covid-19 is prevalent.
A spokesperson for the prime minister said the advice was designed to help people "exercise good judgement".
The mixed messaging, though, was widely criticised by local authority leaders, mayors and MPs. Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, described the situation as a "major communications error".
The national press on Tuesday and Wednesday morning reported several examples of people changing their bank holiday travel plans as a result of the confusion.
Strawberry Holidays owner Kate Holroyd, who is based in Darwen just outside Blackburn, initially sought clarity on what the change in advice would mean for her clients.
She called on transport secretary Grant Shapps and her local MP Jake Berry to confirm whether the new rules would trigger refund policies like the previous tiered system of Covid restrictions.
However, when it was confirmed on Tuesday there was no material change in local travel restrictions, she wrote on Twitter: "I just have no more words. It’s excruciating. And I’m exhausted."
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth questioned what the new advice meant for people with half-term holidays booked, or weddings, and said the messaging from government had been "completely contradictory".
Bolton Council leader David Greenhalgh said people in the town had been living in fear of a local lockdown, adding: "As long as they follow the guidance, I don’t believe residents in Bolton should be cancelling holidays."