Bedford and Leicester residents told to stay away from Northamptonshire as Indian variant Covid cases rise

Government advises against non-essential travel to and from hardest-hit areas

Officials are warning people not to travel between Northamptonshire and two neighbouring areas hardest hit by the Indian variant of Covid-19 unless necessary.

Government guidance changed on Friday — without any big announcement — advising people to avoid heading in or out of Leicester and Bedford unless it is essential.

Both areas are among eight health officials have identified as those where the B.1.617.2 'variant of concern' is spreading fastest.

Health chief Lucy Wightman admits Friday's change has gone 'under the radar' with no announcement from Matt Hancock

MP Layla Moran, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus, said this risked causing "confusion and uncertainty" and demanded clarification from health secretary Matt Hancock.

Northamptonshire's public health director admitted the change had "gone under the radar a little."

Mrs Wightman said: "There has been a bit of criticism that the government and local authorities are not shouting a bit louder.

"Those area are quite close to us and we want to understand what the restrictions are and what they might mean for our local residents."

Bedford has seen a surge in Indian variant Covid-19 cases

Northamptonshire has been here before when it comes to importing Covid-19 cases.

Experts believe the county is still paying a price for shoppers flocking to retail parks in the county in the run-up to Christmas from areas where non-essential retail had already been locked down.

Mrs Wightman admitted: "We saw before Christmas that people flooded into the county when other areas around us had restrictions despite all the recommendations not to.

"That meant we had a peak much later than others and we've struggled to recover from it in some areas.

"Weekly infection rates across Northamptonshire are still quite varied — 10.5 in Daventry but four times that in Wellingborough — so there is still a risk of having a surge in some particular areas."

Bedford Borough has seen 290 new Covid-19 cases in a week according to latest official figures with an infection rate of 167.3 per 100,000 people.

In the city of Leicester, 195 positive swabs were found at a rate of 55 per 100,000

Northamptonshire, meanwhile, saw 149 cases during the same period — 19.8 per 100,000.

Experts believe the B.1.617.2 variant first variant first found in India earlier this year could be spreading more quickly than the Kent strain which was responsible for the surge in cases over the winter.

New data from PHE shows there have been at least 2,889 cases of the Indian variant recorded in England from February 1 this year to May 18.

Of those, 104 cases resulted in a visit to a hospital emergency department, 31 required an overnight hospital admission and six resulted in a death.

Studies have confirmed that two doses of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines are almost as effective against the Indian coronavirus variant as they are against the Kent strain — but were only 33 per cent effective three weeks after a first dose.

Latest official figures show 253,825 out of a target population of around 600,000 people in Northamptonshire have been fully vaccinated while 165,658 have had a first jab.

■ Anyone with Covid-19 symptoms — a new continuous cough, loss of or change in sense of taste or a high temperature should self-isolate immediately and book a test online HERE, via the Test and Trace app or by calling 119.

■ Free lateral flow device tests are available at sites across the county — click HERE for more details — or kits can be ordered and collected for home use.

■ All those aged 32 or over are eligible for a Covid-19 vaccination. Click HERE to book or contact your GP