POLICE are sending out unmarked police cars around Blackburn amid concerns punters are still visiting street sex workers, despite the coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

Officers have also been speaking to working girls to encourage them not to go out and work, fearing they could either catch Covid-19 from their ‘customers’ or transmit it to them.

Police will also be patrolling areas where prostitutes are known to operate and will either arrest, issue words of advice or a fixed penalty notices to anybody thought to be a punter or out of their home without a reasonable excuse.

A spokesman for Blackburn with Darwen neighbourhood police said: “We have been speaking with street sex workers and discouraging them not to be out on the streets. We have been doing this as part of our usual patrols.

“We would wish to discourage both the working girls and ‘customers’ from visiting the areas where this illegal activity goes on. Some of our patrols will be visiting the areas in both marked and unmarked vehicles.”

Blackburn with Darwen’s director of public health Dominic Harrison called on the Government to ensure that one of the country’s most vulnerable groups wasn’t forgotten about.

Mr Harrison said: “Clearly being a sex worker always carries a very high health risk anyway but in these times those risks are going to be exacerbated by the fact in most cases social distancing isn’t going to be likely. Sex workers still working at these times are going to be experiencing greater risks to themselves and their customers are potentially going to potentially take greater risks than normal back to their homes.

“My advice to sex workers and their customers is to avoid contact at this time. However, I do realise that for many sex workers there are limited other sources of income and that the Government are unlikely to treat them as furloughed workers. I would urge the Government to think about this group and what alternative ways of providing financial support can be given.”

Blackburn with Darwen health and wellbeing boss Cllr Damian Talbot welcomed the approach the police are taking, stating that it was a fine balancing act given the desperate situation of people either turning to or being forced into prostitution.

Cllr Talbot said: “Sex workers themselves are vulnerable under any circumstances, but particularly so in the current climate. There is a particular risk to the sex workers involved and to their customers.

“This activity is illegal but we have got to be realistic and understand it does still happen. We would just urge people to be careful.

“The police are sensitive to the situation, but these are not what would be described as essential activities. It is the police’s job to handle the issue and to deal with those who are contravening the Government restrictions.”

Victims of sexual exploitation can call police on 101 and for help and support contact Lancashire Victim Services on 0300 323 0085.