South Tyneside MPs slam Government over handling of North Tyneside Indian covid variant situation

Politicians from both sides of the Tyne have slammed the Government over the handling of the Indian covid variant situation.

Tuesday, 25th May 2021, 6:51 pm
(l-r) Jarrow MP Kate Osborne and South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck
(l-r) Jarrow MP Kate Osborne and South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck

Ministers had advised people to avoid travelling in and out of North Tyneside after the area was identified as being one of those where the Indian covid variant was spreading fastest.

This sparked concern south of the river, with many people travelling between South and North Tyneside for work, education, or days and nights out.

And a row erupted after North Tyneside Council said the authority had been given no indication of additional restrictions, with the travel advice appearing on the Government’s website without warning.

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck. Picture by FRANK REID

But after a meeting on Tuesday afternoon with council representatives, the council said the Government has now clarified the situation.

Norma Redfearn, elected Mayor of North Tyneside, said: “After a day of confusion the Government have clarified there are no restrictions on travel in or out of North Tyneside.

“The position for North Tyneside is as we were. We are at the same stage of the roadmap as the rest of the country.

“We have seen throughout the pandemic that clear communications are vital and this confusion has caused stress and anxiety for many people in North Tyneside and the region.”

Kate Osborne MP

The Mayor added there had been no consultation on the advice from Government, “which was wrong”, and enhanced testing and additional vaccinations meant there was no justification for the suggestion travel should not take place in and out of the borough.

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck described Government’s handling of the situation as “a total disgrace”, adding it had created “total confusion” for residents and businesses.

"The whole thing is utterly shambolic," she said.

"This is really worrying, not just for people, but for local businesses as well as hospitality who have been battered throughout this."

Ms Lewell-Buck has also strongly opposed any return to local lockdowns, adding the likelihood of more variants meant improved test and trace was needed rather than restrictions.

She added: "What people need to do is just be safe and sensible and people are capable of doing that."

Jarrow MP Kate Osborne, a former North Tyneside councillor, voiced her concerns over the Government issuing advice without warning.

Speaking before the situation was clarified, she said: “The Government have effectively imposed a local lockdown in some places including North Tyneside without consultation or even conversation with local leaders.

“If we want to suppress the spreading of this new variant then we need effective communication, not hidden messaging.”

Wendy Burke, director of Public Health for North Tyneside, said: “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 North Tyneside. There are no local lockdowns.

“In areas where the new covid variant is spreading we are all 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.

“We will keep sharing that and working with national officials to make sure people understand what they need to think about as they go about their daily lives.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We will be updating the guidance for areas where the new Covid-19 variant is spreading to make it clearer we are not imposing local restrictions.

"Instead, we are providing advice on the additional precautions people can take to protect themselves and others in those areas where the new variant is prevalent.

“This includes, wherever possible, trying to meet outdoors rather than indoors, keeping 2 metres apart from anyone you don’t live with and minimising travel in and out the area.

"These are not new regulations but they are some of the ways everyone can help bring the variant under control in their local area.”

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