SUDDEN spikes in coronavirus infections in two East Lancashire boroughs are an ‘early warning sign’ which could lead to the re-imposition of some lockdown measures, health bosses have warned.

Blackburn with Darwen and Pendle last week saw sharp increases in the number of residents testing positive for Covid-19 putting them second and third behind re-locked down Leicester in the national league table.

They have been blamed on ‘household clustering’ and a rise in cases among the under-30s.

In Pendle the rate of positive tests for the seven days up to July 10 rocketed to 67.8 per 100,000 residents from 14.2 the previous week.

In Blackburn with Darwen it rose from 29.5 per 100,000 to 41.

The figures from the government’s coronavirus online dashboard combining hospital and laboratory test results with those taken in the wider community have caused alarm but are well below those which caused a full local lockdown in Leicester.

Professor Dominic Harrison, Blackburn with Darwen’s public health director today issued new guidance to combat what he described as a ‘rising tide’ of Covid-19 infections.

THE ‘special measures’ Blackburn with Darwen residents are urged to observe for the next month are:

HOUSEHOLD MEETINGS RESTRICTIONS: national guidance allows two families or households to meet in one household as long as they keep to social distancing guidance inside the house. The council is now asking residents to limit the numbers meeting to one household plus only two members from a second household at any one time in a two household meeting or gathering.

CLOTH FACE COVERINGS: all residents to wear cloth face covering (or non-surgical masks) in all enclosed public spaces including shops, workplaces , libraries, museums etc in advance of the government making them mandatory in shops from on July 24 with a fine of up to £100 for flouting the new rule.

GREETING AND EMBRACING: no handshakes, hugs or cuddles for a month outside of the immediate family in one household: elbow bumps only.

SMALL SHOPS REVIEW: step up public protection advice and support to  small shops across the borough (but particularly in BAME communities) to ensure face mask wearing, social distancing , hygiene measures, increased ventilation and other measures to reduce risk of virus spread in smaller shops.

TESTING: urge everyone at risk to be tested regardless of symptoms with targeted testing and case finding in areas of higher Covid-19.

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The council will increase communications and community engagement, targeted messaging on the key risks to specific communities, and support for ‘Covid-Safe’ shops and venues.

His Lancashire County Council counterpart Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, said: “These figures are an early warning sign that coronavirus has not gone away and we all need to be cautious and keep to guidelines about social distancing, face coverings and handwashing to stop it coming back.”

He was particularly concerned at figures for July 6 which saw 17 new cases recorded in Pendle and July 7 which saw 20 positive tests as well as an increase in infections among males under 30.

Professor Harrison said: “We have a rising tide of community spread with our higher rates not due to a single large outbreak as in Kirklees or Herefordshire.

“Our rise in rates is largely being driven by household clustering where a single person is infected and then the whole household of four or five members are then also being infected.

“We are establishing a Covid-19 Prevention Zone across the borough. This will involve a range of additional measures and interventions to reduce the community transmission that we are seeing. This will involve some universal measures affecting everyone and some targeted measures addressing specific risks.

“If the rates are continuing to rise we will consider reversing the national lockdown lifting measures in Blackburn with Darwen one by one until we do get a reversal in the current rising trend.

“These latest figures are an early and timely warning about the need to be vigilant.”

Dr Karunanithi said: “We are prepared to reverse individual lockdown lifting measures locally one by one to block the rise in Covid-19 infections when the information and intelligence requires us to do so.

“We are a long way off a new Lancashire-wide local lockdown at the moment.”

Prof Harrison said: “Over the 14 days to July 11 the data is showing us we had 114 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Blackburn with Darwen. Of these, 97 where from South Asian heritage communities.

“This data is also showing us the average age of infection is falling significantly with 20 per cent of those new cases in the last two weeks in residents under 19 and more cases in the 20 to 30 age group.

“The cases in the South Asian community are the ones clustering in households and these households are more likely to be in areas of smaller terraced housing with larger multi-generational families.

“What may be happening is that younger South Asian residents may be becoming asymptomatically infected and bringing that infection home unknowingly, infecting the wider household.”

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Dr Karunanithi said: “The majority of new cases in Pendle were where we expected in Nelson and Brierfield in multi-generational families of South Asian heritage in terraced houses. We are implementing our local outbreak plan to tackle this.”

Prof Harrison said: “ I do not expect a borough wide lockdown. I expect overall cases to continue to rise for the next two weeks due to the increased targeted testing we are doing in communities most at risk and because we have a new testing site next to the hospital

“The earlier stages of the pandemic were characterised by a different profile of those infected of wealthier, white retired people.

“Once we have had hospitality venues open for a few weeks and many people have had their summer holidays, the balance of who is then targeted by the virus could well change again.”

Blackburn with Darwen Council is increasing the testing of residents further and stepping up public protection advice and support to small shops across the borough.

A mobile testing unit will be at the former fairground site on Carr Road, on the border of Nelson and Barrowford until Sunday for the second week running while Pendle Council is stressing the importance of borough businesses maintaining records of people who’ve visited their premises for NHS ‘Track and Trace’.