However, the changes were not publicised or communicated to local public health teams or councils, who were ‘gobsmacked’ that they had not been told.
The eight local authorities have insisted no further travel restrictions apply to their areas after meeting government officials on Tuesday.
They said people are still allowed to travel in and out of the areas listed on the government website, which were interpreted as having stricter measures placed on them.
Directors of public health from all eight councils have released a statement saying: ‘Following the national coverage of recently revised guidance we have met with national officials and confirmed there are no restrictions on travel in or out of each of our areas: There are no local lockdowns.’
In areas where the Indian variant is spreading, they said they are ‘working together to boost testing and vaccination and to support self-isolation’.
‘There are sensible public health precautions people can take as individuals in line with the sorts of advice we have all been following throughout the pandemic,’ they added.
Their statement came soon after vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told the Commons people in those areas should avoid travelling in or out of those areas unless necessary, for work or education.
This was in line with the changes on the government’s website which said: ‘In the areas listed… wherever possible, you should try to meet outside rather than inside where possible; keep 2 metres apart from people that you don’t live with (unless you have formed a support bubble with them), this includes friends and family you don’t live with; avoid travelling in and out of affected areas unless it is essential, for example for work (if you cannot work from home) or education.’
Downing Street has argued that the recommendations to the hotspot areas were first issued on May 14 – when the PM urged people to be ‘extra cautious’ – before being ‘formally’ published online last week.
The new information was shared online at Gov.uk on Friday, but does not appear to have been accompanied by an official announcement, meaning the change went unnoticed for days.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said the government wanted to encourage the public ‘to exercise their good judgement’, rather than issuing ‘top-down edicts’.
However, Tory and Labour politicians condemned the chaos caused by the changes, which they first heard about from local journalists who spotted them on the government website.
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said the updated guidance was a ‘fairly major communications error’ which had caused ‘huge amounts of confusion’
Dominic Harrison, the director of public health for Blackburn with Darwen council, said he was ‘astonished’ they had not been informed while Labour MP for Bolton South East, Yasmin Quereshi, said she was ‘gobsmacked’ by the oversight.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth accused the government of imposing ‘local lockdowns by stealth, by the back door’.
Ministers are reportedly on the verge of withdrawing elements of the new guidance, which is still online.
However, at a press conference with other local leaders this afternoon, the Tory leader of Bolton Council David Greenhalgh said ministers had now clarified that there are no extra restrictions.
He said: ‘As long as they follow the guidance I don’t believe residents in Bolton should be cancelling holidays.’
Bolton has the highest Covid infection rate in the country, with 452.1 cases per 100,000 people. The Royal Bolton Hospital said it would take urgent action to manage an increase in Covid patients.