BLACKBURN with Darwen residents have been told not to panic despite latest official figures showing the borough is sitting ninth in the country in terms of coronavirus infection rates.

A regional map for testing across England showed Blackburn with Darwen with a higher-than-average 32.9 cases per 100,000 people as of June 21.

In contrast, Leicester, which has been placed into a ‘local lockdown’, had 140.2 cases per 100,000 while other areas in the North West such as Rochdale (53.6) and Oldham (38.6) also figured highly.

The Lancashire County Council area, covering boroughs such as Hyndburn, Ribble Valley, Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale, had 15.0 new cases per 100,000.

Director of public health and wellbeing for Blackburn with Darwen Council, Prof Dominic Harrison, said people should not worry unnecessarily, as figures were fluctuating every day.

But he said: “I do want people to take this seriously but I don’t want them to panic.

"Don’t worry that we are going to lockdown because we are not, we do not want to do that.”

He said he had seen even newer figures which showed while Leicester’s infection rate was steady, Blackburn with Darwen’s had dipped to 23.5 new cases per 100,000.

He said: “We certainly take this report very seriously. It confirms our own local judgements of the current situation in Blackburn with Darwen – that we have a slightly raised rate of confirmed cases in recent data.

"Whilst the rate is currently elevated, we have between eight and 11 cases per day.

"When the numbers get this small a handful of cases can make the rate appear to have jumped when in fact the number of cases rising or falling is relatively small. We are nowhere near the 900 or so cases reported in Leicester over the past two weeks.

"However we are not at all complacent – we have published our plan this week, we are stepping up our local prevention work week-on-week with vulnerable settings and are strengthening our communications with key groups.

"We are working closely with the local NHS to make Pennine Lancashire ‘second wave ready’ and are making plans to increase the availability of local testing for higher risk groups."

He said he would still ask people to stick to 2-metres social distancing wherever possible, increase daily handwashing, and wear a cloth mask in all enclosed public spaces.

He added: "We have clear plans to manage any local outbreaks which are to be expected. If we start to get any evidence of continued community transmission outside of these settings we will be watching the data closely and will bring in a stepped approach to risk reduction that would avoid us having to lockdown.

"But to work this approach needs all of us to play our part, we need to work together to keep Blackburn with Darwen a COVID–safe borough. It’s up to us all to stick by the rules and protect each other to both save lives and save livelihoods.

"I would particular urge the borough’s residents to take it easy on the big lockdown lifting day on Saturday 4th July and help each other stick to the rules for being COVID-safe."

Yesterday, Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College, London, warned the country should be braced for regional flare-ups, saying it was an “illusion” to think the UK was past the worst of the epidemic.

Prof Ferguson, who quit as a government adviser after admitting breaking lockdown rules, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There’s a bit of an illusion out there that somehow we are past the worst.

“This is far from over so I think lessons can be learned from what happened in the UK up to now, but I would prefer to focus on getting the next six months right before looking back in earnest.

“It’s inevitable we will have further local outbreaks.

“We are relaxing lockdown rules and that means that contacts in the population are going up and that’s a very variable process.”

On Monday, Lancashire County Council’s director of public health, Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, said people still needed to act responsibly when restrictions are further eased this weekend, but should “enjoy” the lockdown-lifting measures, while remaining “careful and cautious”.