LEADERS in eight Indian variant hotspots have criticised the Government for "sneaking in a quasi-lockdown".
But Boris Johnson is urging people in the affected areas to be "extra cautious" as surge testing continues.
Which areas are worst affected by the Indian Covid variant?
The eight areas worst hit by the Indian Covid variant are Bedford, Blackburn, Bolton, Burley, Kirklees, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside.
The government said: "Additional surge testing, tracing and isolation support measures are being deployed at pace across Bedford, Burnley, Hounslow, Kirklees, Leicester and North Tyneside.
"We are also providing support to the Scottish Government, who are adopting similar action to control the spread of variants in Glasgow and Moray.
"In Bolton, a 100-strong surge rapid response team continues to support the local authority with door-to-door testing and encouraging residents to take a PCR test."
It added: "The latest data on the [Indian] B1.617.2 variant shows the number of cases across the UK has risen to 2,967 cases.
"Most cases remain predominantly in the North West of England, with some in London."
Covid hospitalisations have tripled in one of the hotspots, Bolton, over the past three weeks.
The variant is now the most dominant in the Greater Manchester town, accounting for 89 per cent of cases.
The rapidly-spreading mutated virus has finally overtaken the Kent strain which forced England into the third national lockdown in January.
PHE said 53.8 per cent of infections in mid-May had the “S gene” — a tell-tale sign of the Indian variant, named B.1.617.2.
The Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) said it was behind 49.6 per cent of cases since May 16, compared to 43.7 per cent attributed to the Kent variant.
The government said there was "no evidence to show this variant has a greater impact on severity of disease or evades the vaccine".
However, getting your second Covid jab is the best way to shield yourself against the Indian variant, experts have said.
One dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca jab is 33 per cent effective against Covid disease from the Indian variant, according to the latest data.
Two doses of the Pfizer jab gave 88 per cent protection, while two doses of the AstraZeneca jab gave 60 per cent defence against the Indian strain.
What are the travel rules for the hotspot areas?
The government's updated guidance recommends that people within the eight localities shouldn't meet up indoors or travel outside their areas unless it is for an essential matter, such as going to work.
But council leaders and local officials representing two million people in those eight Covid hotspots in England hardest have slammed the measures.
Incredibly, they weren't forewarned about the changes, which were dumped on the Government website on the evening of last Friday, May 21 2021.
There was no public announcement, and they didn't find out until May 24, when journalists started to flag the new guidance.
Blackburn's director of public health, Prof Dominic Harrison, tweeted that local authority areas were not consulted with, warned of, notified about, or alerted to the instruction changes.
Blackburn MP Kate Hollern (Labour) tweeted: "On Friday night the Government rolled out lockdown-lite through the back door.
"The guidance is likely to have major implications on businesses, schools and the hospitality sector and I'm furious that the Government hasn't bothered to consult the local authorities involved.
"I strongly oppose the Government's attempt to introduce new measures by stealth and without consultation."
Bedford MP Mohammad Yasin (Labour) said a lack of vaccines for younger people in the area means not everyone who is eligible has been able to access a jab.
Bedford has the second-highest rate of coronavirus in England, with hundreds of new cases recorded.
The government has denied it acted by stealth, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock urging: "To everyone in these areas, please exercise caution, get a test, and as soon as you’re eligible, get the jab."
However, ministers have sparked more holiday confusion as they admitted that Brits living in Indian variant hotspots can still legally go on green list holidays.
The advice boils down to – you can go, but you shouldn't.
And it's not illegal, so people won't face fines.
Guidance for the eight 'hotspots:
- Meet outside rather than inside where possible
- Keep two metres apart from people outside your household, or support bubble
- Avoid travelling in and out of affected areas – unless it's for essential work or education
You should also:
- Get tested twice a week for free and isolate if you are positive
- Continue to work from home if you can
- Get vaccinated
What other Covid rules are in place?
Coronavirus restrictions remain in place across the country, including for people who have been vaccinated.
- You can meet indoors in a group of up to six people or a group of any size from two households, including for overnight stays
- You can meet outside in a group of up to 30 people
- Work from home if you can and travel safely
- Pubs, theatres and other venues can open indoors
- Hotels, hostels and B&Bs can open for people on holiday
- If you have Covid symptoms get a test and stay at home
- Continue wearing face masks
- If you don't wear face masks inside shops and public transport, you risk a £200 fine
- People can hug loved ones if they – and you – wish to, but caution is urged to avoid transmitting the disease
- Secondary school pupils in England are no longer required to wear face coverings, but some schools still have this measure in place
The Stay in the UK restriction has been lifted and people can travel to green list countries.
Strict border control measures remain in place, including pre-departure coronavirus tests and a PCR test on or before day two of people's arrival back in the UK.
But, you should not travel to red or amber list countries or territories.
Brits have been enjoying new-found freedoms from May 17, when the next stage of the roadmap out of the UK's Covid lockdown began.
Up to 30 people can now attend weddings, receptions, and commemorative events including wakes.
These can take place outdoors or at any indoor Covid-secure venue that is permitted to open.
Thirty people can attend a support group or parent and child group.
Indoor hospitality have reopened and indoor entertainment has resumed, including cinemas, museums, and children’s play areas.
Organised adult sport and exercise classes have restarted indoors and saunas and steam rooms have reopened.
Care homes residents will be able to have up to five named visitors.
Step four out of lockdown is due to take place no earlier than June 21.
What is the Indian Covid variant?
A new Covid variant from India has been spreading at an alarming rate in the UK, putting lockdown easing at risk.
Boris Johnson cancelled his trip to India, with the country being added to the UK’s “red list” of restricted destination.
There is no evidence that symptoms of B.1.617.2 are any different to the original ones, including a new, persistent cough, high temperature and loss of taste and smell.
Cases are predominantly in younger people, public health officials say.
Experts think this variant may be able to spread more easily than earlier forms of the virus, explains Grace Roberts, research fellow in virology, Queen's University in Belfast.
"This is because of a mutation it carries called L452R, which affects the virus’s spike protein.
"This is the 'key' the coronavirus uses to unlock our cells," she writes in The Conversation.
Cases in Britain appear to be doubling each week.
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