Latest update: 10:42
Bedford’s MP, Mohammad Yasin, has described it as a “shocking lack of respect for residents of Bedford Borough” that the government did not inform them of the travel guidance changes.
“Yesterday evening I learnt the Government had sneaked Bedford Borough into a local lockdown, without taking the time to consult directly with the local Public Health team or local elected officials,” he told the Bedford Independent.
“The Council, myself and scores of concerned constituents only found out through the media that the Government had silently updated their guidance online.
“Not only does this reveal a shocking lack of respect for residents in Bedford Borough and the work our Public Health team have been doing to try and keep the public safe but the message on such a vital issue is hugely confusing.”
For almost two weeks, Bedford’s MP and Mayor have been calling on the government to implement surge vaccines in Bedford and to speed up the rollout to all over-16s.
Mr Yasin also spoke of the lack of doses of the Pfizer vaccine for Bedford Borough residents.
“Up until as recently as last Friday, many of my constituents eligible for the vaccine were presented with the option to wait or were otherwise forced to travel miles to access the Pfizer vaccine – which astonishingly was available to neighbouring areas with far lower infection rates but not here in Bedford Borough,” he said.
Lack of border control
“The new variant, first identified in India in December, has spread because of the Government’s lax approach to border control,” said Mr Yasin, a statement echoed by Cllr Jackson.
“The government knew weeks ago that people were travelling into the country and then travelling onto places like Bedford and Bolton. We were not given information about returning travellers,” Cllr Jackson told the Bedford Independent.
“If you want to contain it, it’s at the borders or the minute someone lands in the country.
“The government have allowed this variant in, they’ve allowed it to spread and now they’re looking for a solution. But it’s far too late.”
The health secretary, Matt Hancock has been called to attend Parliament at 12.30pm today to answer urgent questions and to clarify the new rules.
We will continue to update this post throughout the day in order to keep residents as informed as possible.
Latest update: 09:39
Bedford Borough Council has this morning released a statement confirming that they were not made aware of any travel advisory changes relating to the spread of the new coronavirus variant.
“With local spread of the variant of concern B.1.617.2, first identified in India, the Government has advised people not to travel to or from Bedford Borough to help stop the spread of the virus,” said the statement from a Brough spokesperson.
“We were not made aware of the introduction of this advice and are urgently looking at the implications of this on the services we provide.”
Uncertainty over half term
Exactly what this means for people planning holidays during half-term is unclear, said Cllr Louise Jackson, portfolio holder for health and wellbeing at Bedford Borough Council.
“We just don’t know what the advice is for half term,” she told the Bedford Independent.
“This appears to be local lockdown by stealth and we know that they don’t work. The government have allowed this variant into the country and they’ve allowed it to spread.
“It’s far too late to contain this within any local authority boundary.”
The council reiterated its advice for residents to take extra care, and continue to follow Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air guidelines.
If you’re meeting with friends or family meet outside wherever possible where the virus particles can be blown away.
“We’re asking everyone in Kingsbrook, Cauldwell, Queens Park and Wixams to carry out a PCR test to identify any cases so that they can self-isolate,” said the council spokesperson.
Bedford’s leaders and residents were unaware of Government guidance, published on Friday, advising all but essential travel in and out of Bedford in the face of the rise of Covid-19 (coronavirus) cases.
According to a report in the Manchester Evening News (MEN), the guidance was published on the gov.uk website on Friday 22 May at 5.26pm, but did not appear to be accompanied by an official announcement.
“According to the guidance, journeys to and from areas affected by the Indian variant throughout the UK should be avoided, ‘unless essential’,” said the MEN.
Exemptions include work – if you cannot work from home – and education.
However, a tweet by Mayor Dave indicates that Bedford’s leaders were not advised of this guidance by the Government.
We were not informed!
— Dave Hodgson (@DaveTheMayor) May 24, 2021
The tweet emphatically states, “We were not informed!”.
Bedford is not the only area covered by the guidance. It also includes other areas with rising cases of the Indian variant, including Blackburn and Darwen, Bolton, Burnley, Kirklees, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside.
The new government guidance states: “The new Covid-19 variant spreads more easily from person to person. To help stop the spread, you should take particular caution when meeting anyone outside your household or support bubble.
“In the areas listed, wherever possible, you should try to meet outside rather than inside where possible, keep two 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, [and] avoid travelling in and out of affected areas unless it is essential, for example for work (if you cannot work from home) or education.”
A Bedford resident who travelled out of the area at the weekend said they were horrified that they might have been acting against government guidance.
“Had I known that guidance had changed, I would definitely have made different plans,” she said.
“It seems strange – and irresponsible – to change the rules at the end of the day on Friday and not tell anyone in the affected areas.”
This story will be updated throughout the day.