The government’s U-turn on new travel restrictions for areas hit by the Indian variant of Covid-19 dominated national press headlines on Wednesday (26 May).
Several papers carried the story on their front pages after local council leaders, health officials and MPs accused the government of mixed messaging on the new advice, introduced quietly nearly a fortnight ago.
Downing Street has been forced to come out and deny trying to impose new local lockdowns "by stealth", claiming the updated advice was designed to better guide people on how to protect themselves and others.
Meanwhile, it has been reported the government could employ a new "island policy", which would detach travel restrictions for destinations like the Canary Islands, Balearics and Greece’s islands from the restrictions imposed on their respective mainlands.
Local lockdown plans unravel
Ministers have been forced into retreat over plans, local leaders allege, amounting to quietly introducing new local lockdowns in areas with high incidence of the so-called new Indian variant of Covid-19. The government has changed its advice on travel in and out of eight areas experiencing upticks in new Covid infection after councils threatened to defy the rules, with health officials and MPs claiming they weren’t consulted on the changes, which several national papers reported had put half-term travel plans at risk. (The Telegraph)
Several other national titles carried prominent stories on the u-turn. The front page of the i on Wednesday reads "No 10 cancels accidental lockdowns", citing clarification from government the new guidance was not law. "Anger forces climbdown over travel restrictions" ran The Guardian’s P1 headline, while The Sun went with "Covid hot spots in ‘lockdown’ chaos". The Financial Times ran on its front page "Stealth curbs provoke anger".
Govt plotting new islands policy
The government could introduce a new version of last summer’s "island policy" which would see ministers consider island destinations such as the Canary Islands, Balearics and Greece’s islands separately from their respective mainland. It comes after aviation and maritime minister Robert Courts reportedly told MPs it would take this approach "where possible" when the government next reviews its list of "green" destinations. It is also reported the government’s Joint Biosecurity Centre has been asked to assess islands separately when collating its data, which is used by government to inform its decisions on how to categorise countries under the UK’s traffic light system. (The Telegraph)
Indian variant spreading in England
More than 150 local authority areas in England have now reported cases of the Indian variant of Covid-19. The variant, B.1.617.2 was detected in 151 local authority areas in the week to 15 May, up 18% week-on-week according to Wellcome Sanger Institute figures – meaning it was detected in an additional 37 areas. However, 28 local authority areas that previously identified cases of the Indian variant had none in the most recent week. (Sky News)
Blimps for city hops?
Short air journeys should be replaced by more environmentally-friendly blimp rides, Bedford-based commercial airship firm Hybrid Air Vehicles has claimed. The business has developed a new airship it says could help cities cut carbon emissions from flying by 90%. HAV has outlined a series of routes it hopes to operate by 2025, including Liverpool-Belfast and Barcelona-Palma. (The Guardian)
France confident of Covid-free summer
France can expect to weather the summer without a resurgence of Covid infection, despite plans to end lockdown and reopen to tourists, according to the country’s Pasteur Institute. The research centre said compulsory outdoor mask-wearing could be ended by July, along with the country’s curfew and most other Covid restrictions. The institute said cases had fallen steadily over the past month, boosted by an accelerated vaccination effort. France will start easing its restrictions on 9 June, which is also when it will reopen to British tourists if conditions permit. (The Times)
30-year-olds invited to book Covid jabs
The NHS has invited those aged 30 and over in England to come forward and book their Covid vaccinations, with the roll-out quickly progressing to lower age categories. A further one million people will this week be invited to book their jabs. The programme has come down in two-year increments over the past 10 days from 37-year-olds to 30-year-olds. More than 38 million people have now had their first jab, and 23 million their second too. (Sky News)
National Trust chair resigns
Chair of the National Trust, Tim Parker, has resigned. It follows criticism of his leadership at a recent AGM and a no confidence motion. It comes after the trust last year published a report looking into links between trust properties and estates and their links to slavery colonialism. Parker had been in post for seven years, staying on beyond what was due to be his second and final three-year term to provide continuity during the Covid crisis, which has seen visits plummet. (The Daily Mail)