THOUSANDS of people will die in Lancashire who didn’t need to if selfish residents continue to flout the Government’s coronavirus lockdown guidelines, the senior police officer leading the public and private sector and volunteer response to the crisis has warned.

Deputy Chief Constable Terry Woods, who jointly chairs the Lancashire Resilience Forum, has warned that anybody caught out in public or gathering in groups of more than two in the coming days will face potential sanction or even arrest in extreme circumstances – although the initial advice to officers is to try and engage with the public and offer words of advice.

It comes as the LRF, the civil emergency planning service with a multi-agency command centre based at the police’s headquarters in Hutton, revealed that support hubs will be operational in all boroughs throughout Lancashire by the end of the week to co-ordinate the mass volunteer effort to ensure vulnerable people and those self-isolating receive vital supplies, including food and medication.

The action follows the announcement by Public Health England that there is now a second coronavirus case in Blackburn with Darwen, and that the total across Lancashire is now 81.

Mr Woods said he expects those figures to get well into the thousands in the coming weeks, including a large number of fatalities.

He added: “We are going to have a lot of people in Lancashire die. We have got a group that is looking at that issue so that we can cope with a large number of deaths in Lancashire.

“If people don’t starting listening and acting and behaving in the way that the Government is instructing then we are going to have thousands more people die in Lancashire than we need to. That is not scaremongering, it is fact.

“The majority of people are doing what we need them to do and that is fantastic. But the truth is that everybody has got a special excuse not to do things and their own special reasons. If they carry on doing that we’re going to end up with thousands more people dying in Lancashire than we need to.

“I am really confident that we have got a good plan. I am really confident that we have got the partnership working at a pace, with the strategic leadership that means we can pull this off. But there is no way we can pull this off if the public don’t absolutely adhere to what they are being told because the health service cannot cope with a significant blip in people requiring ventilation.

"If we carry on behaving the way we have been behaving that is what’s going to happen, and at that point there will not be enough ventilators for the people that need them and they will die. That’s jus as plain and brutal as it is.”

Mr Woods said there had been issues with teenagers congregating at night, and called on parents to ensure their children remained indoors.

He said the LRF had been planning specifically for the cooronavirus emergency for the last two weeks but already had a pandemic flu plan, which is now operational, for a significant period of time.

Among the 30 or 40 people based at the command centre are army personnel – although Mr Woods said they were there purely in a strategic planning role and there had been no request for a military presence on the streets of the county.

Mr Woods said one of the key priorities of the LRF strategy will be to co-ordinate with the humanitarian aspect groups, overseen by the chief executives of the county’s borough councils, who will look after the most vulnerable in the region.

He said that support would be provided to the groups to mobilise the “volunteer army” and called on businesses to provide transport and drivers for delivering food parcels and medical supplies.

Chorley Council chief executive Gary Hall, who is co-chairman of the LRF, said each local authority area was charged with having a functional contact hub by tomorrow to enable people to get the help they need.

Mr Hall said: “The immediate issues to deal with are identifying the most vulnerable people. There will be channels set up to self-report. We will be using the information we have to contact people who we feel might be in that vulnerable category.

“The first thing to deal with is making sure people are fed. As you might expect the business community of Lancashire is stepping up to the plate. We have got many offers of help in that respect. Hopefully that will be enough but we are getting some support from central government in that respect.

“The other issue is medicines. We will do whatever we need to do.”