Two further English boroughs have been upgraded to the highest alert level on the coronavirus watchlist.
Public Health England (PHE) designated Luton, in Bedfordshire, as well as Blackburn and Darwen, in Lancashire, as ‘areas of intervention’ in its latest surveillance report.
They are now at the same level as Leicester and neighbouring Oadby and Wigston, which were both placed back into lockdown as part of the government’s ‘whack-a-mole’ strategy to tackle localised outbreaks.
However, rather than impose similar new restrictions either borough, it is more likely that the lifting of existing measures could instead be delayed, a government source told Sky News.
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Figures published on Thursday show that Blackburn and Darwen had the highest rolling seven-day rate of new coronavirus cases in the country.
The number almost doubled from 49.7 infections per 100,000 people in the seven days to July 13, to 81.9 in the week up to July 10, with 122 new cases confirmed.
Leicester was second on the list where, despite the rate their falling from 102.5 to 65.6, 233 new cases were recorded.
Luton was 12th on the list. The rate there has dropped from 31.8 to 24.8.
Reacting to PHE’s announcement, the leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council said it was ‘sensible not to relax’ lockdown restrictions in the area.
Councillor Mohammed Khan said: ‘We are very grateful to our communities for working with us. The increase in testing is helping to ensure that we are heading in the right direction with a reduction in positive cases and hospital admissions.
‘We need to keep up the momentum with our strong prevention work so we agree it’s sensible not to relax the easing of restrictions at the moment to stop the spread.
‘We have already decided to delay the opening of our council leisure facilities along with introducing other localised prevention measures. We feel that accelerating our control measures in this way will assist us to move out of having higher Covid rates even faster – we are grateful for the Government’s help in our local plans on this.’
An area of intervention is one ‘where there is divergence from the measures in place in the rest of England because of the significance of the spread, with a detailed action plan in place, and local resources augmented with a national support’, according to PHE.
NHS Test and Trace chief Baroness Harding said this afternoon that Leicester was not ‘completely out of the woods’ following the local lockdown there, while there were also concerns around Blackburn and Bradford.
She told the BBC: ‘One of the challenges with Covid is that it takes 14 days from the time we have taken action to be really confident that that action is making a difference.
‘The encouraging sign in Leicester is that the infection rate is starting to go down but it’s still very high.
‘I don’t think that Leicester is completely out of the woods yet and it’s really important that anyone living in Leicester comes forward for a test – if they are in any doubt they should come forward for a test.’
She added: ‘Other towns and cities on our areas of concern, or areas that are receiving enhanced support, would be places like Blackburn, also Bradford – who we saw increase but have now come down from being in our “enhanced support” category to being in our “area of concern” category.’
There were ‘a number of areas in the North West that we are working really closely with’.
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