‘Confusion and infection’: behind the government’s late-night northern lockdown

New restrictions introduced at 9pm via Twitter prompt fierce political backlash

Lockdown Manchester
New restrictions introduced at 9pm via Twitter prompt fierce political backlash
(Image credit: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Parts of the north of England awoke to tighter lockdown restrictions this morning as the government introduced new controls to stem a resurgence of Covid-19 cases.

The measures were announced last night via Twitter, just two-and-a-half hours before they came into effect, prompting “fierce political backlash”, says the Daily Mail.

Where do the restrictions apply?

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The new rules will apply to Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire.

“Greater Manchester, including the City of Manchester, Trafford, Stockport, Oldham, Bury, Wigan, Bolton, Tameside, Rochdale and Salford,” will all be covered by the restrictions, The Guardian explains.

In Lancashire, affected areas include “Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle and Rossendale. Bradford, Calderdale and Kirkless, in West Yorkshire”.

What are the new rules?

The main rule that has been introduced is that people are no longer allowed to meet other people they do not live with inside a private home or garden.

There are some exceptions applied to those who have formed support bubbles or for “other limited exemptions to be specified by law”, the government says. Restaurants, bars, cafes, gyms, and pubs remain open, but people are being discouraged from socialising in such places with anyone outside their household.

What is the infection rate in the areas affected?

The Telegraph has rounded up the latest rolling seven-day rate of new coronavirus cases for some of the areas which are included in the new rules. The paper notes that these figures exclude the most recent three days (July 28-30) because those data are incomplete and likely to be revised.

• In Blackburn with Darwen, the rate of infection is up from 83.3 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to July 20 to 89.3 in the seven days to July 27. A total of 133 new cases have been recorded.• Leicester sits in second place, where the seven-day rate has in fact declined from 67.8 to 60.2, with 214 new cases.• Oldham is up from 23.3 to 54.3, with 128 new cases.• Pendle is up from 27.4 to 42.7, with 39 new cases.• Trafford is up from 15.2 to 41.0, with 97 new cases.• Calderdale is up from 20.9 to 33.8, with 71 new cases.

Why was it announced in the evening on Twitter?

The way Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the shift was met with “fury” says the Daily Mail, with Keir Starmer “leading the criticism”. The Labour leader said announcing new lockdown measures “late at night on Twitter” was “a new low for the government’s communications during this crisis”.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham expressed a similar sentiment, saying that the government has a “habit of saying something and then it being a few hours until the detail emerges”. And Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, called the announcement “an absolute shambles [that] made it harder to follow advice”.

The government has also been criticised for initiating the new crackdown just as the Muslim festival of Eid al Adha was set to begin, which people on social media likened to announcing people could not see their families for Christmas on Christmas Eve.

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In follow-up interviews, Hancock defended both the measures themselves and the manner of their announcement, but was accused of “floundering” again when pressed for more detail on BBC Breakfast this morning, Metro says.

Do people understand the new rules?

Hancock has insisted that the new measures are “crystal clear”. However, a new study has found that less than half of the English public fully understand lockdown rules.

Researchers from University College London found that about 45% of respondents said they had a “broad understanding” of the current rules in England, but just 14% say they understand the rules completely.

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Arion McNicoll is a freelance writer at The Week Digital and was previously the UK website’s editor. He has also held senior editorial roles at CNN, The Times and The Sunday Times. Along with his writing work, he co-hosts “Today in History with The Retrospectors”, Rethink Audio’s flagship daily podcast, and is a regular panellist (and occasional stand-in host) on “The Week Unwrapped”. He is also a judge for The Publisher Podcast Awards.