Fresh coronavirus restrictions have been imposed on the residents of Blackburn with Darwen following a spike in positive cases.
Concerns have been raised that the Lancashire county could become the next area to be locally locked down, following Leicester, prompting officials to implement stricter measures in a desperate bid to avoid a shutdown.
The new restrictions include limiting two people from the same household to visit another home, officials announced on Tuesday. Face coverings must also be worn in enclosed public spaces with immediate effect, said the council, including in workplaces, libraries, museums, health centres and hair and beauty salons.
Local leaders are also encouraging people to ‘elbow bump’ instead of shaking hands or hugging people who are not in their immediate family in a bid to reduce contact. Public protection advice for small shops is also being stepped up to ensure measures including social distancing and increased ventilation are being followed.
Lancashire authority’s director of public health Dominic Harrison announced the new measures must be followed for the next month, saying it was ‘up to everyone’ to make sure authorities don’t have to impose a second lockdown.
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The measures come after 70 new cases of coronavirus were recorded in the area in the seven days to July 11 – up from 47 in the previous seven days – prompting mass testing.
The authority is third on the list of highest weekly rates, behind Leicester, which has a rate of 118.2 cases per 100,000 and nearby Pendle, with a rate of 76.6.
A recently leaked government document identified Blackburn as an area of ‘concern’ as part of a list of 20 local authorities which are at risk of being locally locked down.
Targeted testing is taking place across the borough, with a mobile unit at Witton Park Academy as well as a facility at Royal Blackburn Hospital, and residents have been told they do not need to have symptoms to be tested.
Mr Harrison said: ‘These steps will help and we are appealing to everyone in Blackburn with Darwen to follow them to protect themselves and their loved ones. If we don’t, a local lockdown, like in Leicester, becomes a very real possibility.
‘The council is working with the NHS and the wider community on this, it’s up to us all to help each other stick to the advice that’s been given’.
He said officials expect to see a rise in the number of cases in the borough over the next 10 days due to increased targeted testing.
Mr Harrison said if the number of positive cases continue to increase in another two weeks, the council would consider reimposing some lockdown restrictions.
He said: ‘If the rates are continuing to rise, we will have to consider reversing some of the national lockdown lifting measures locally one by one until we see a reversal in the current rising trend.
‘It’s up to everyone to make sure we don’t have to do that.’
Council leader Mohammed Khan said: ‘I can reassure all local residents that the council is working with different agencies and organisations across the borough to help get the message out to everyone that life cannot go back to normal just yet, and we must all make sacrifices to avoid a local lockdown.
‘We are doing everything we can to get a grip on the virus, and we need everyone in Blackburn with Darwen to pull together to help us.
‘Please continue to do your bit to stick to the rules to protect yourself and your family.’
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