By Dominic Harrison, director of public health Blackburn with Darwen Council

COVID-19 is a restless virus. It disperses like sparks through the stubble, changing the landscape of and location of risk very rapidly.

Blackburn with Darwen is not now alone in having to escalate its local response to Covid-19. It has been joined by the whole of Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire in a ‘northern towns’ group of local authorities. Each of these are now also introducing extra measures aimed at reducing social contacts in order to prevent the community transmission of the virus.

We recognise the regulations governing this situation are now quite complex so Blackburn with Darwen Council and others are putting a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section on the council website to clarify the ‘dos and don’ts’ for us all.

Rates and risks of further Covid-19 transmission are also rising across the UK. This is due to the increased amount of social contacts occurring since lockdown lifting. We are seeing the embers of the first wave of the pandemic fanned into small fires in some areas. Post lockdown lifting spikes in infection rates are also occurring across the world, with Australia, Spain and Hong Kong for instance having to re-impose stricter lockdown measures again.

The progress in reducing the number of new cases of Covid-19 in the UK northern towns is being reviewed weekly with central government, but the new regulations will last a minimum of two weeks. We do not expect any change in the current regulations before August 19.

Testing is still the main way we will shut down community transmission of the virus.

Our vision of where we need to go to next with testing is becoming clearer each week. We are now exploring how we can start ‘hyperlocal testing’.

This will involve looking at the postcodes of confirmed cases on one day – and on the next day getting swabs delivered house to house in that local area, getting the swabs tested, people informed of their results and their contacts traced immediately. If we can do this locally and rapidly we will dramatically reduce the time from infection to self-isolation.

Blackburn with Darwen has been testing at a rate of between 500 per 100,000 and 250 per 100,000 over the past three weeks. It has been regularly in the top national five testers- which is excellent. The national average is about 94 per 100,000 and many local authority areas are testing at rates between 50 and 80 per 100,000.

There is currently no standard metric of the number of tests per 100,000 that a local authority area should test at to get the ‘real rate’ of Covid-19 in their area. It is therefore not really clear how the UK knows what the ‘real rate’ of Covid-19 is across the country. For Blackburn with Darwen we know we have a high rate of infection and our chief control measure is ‘Test, Test, Test’.

We are doing well with that – but let’s do even better, together.

If the promised new technology of a portable machine that can produce a test result within ninety minutes is available to us soon, we could test high rate areas, test all residents on those streets, track their contacts and test them all in the same day.

This would transform our capacity to shut down the chain of transmission and reduce the spread of the virus across the community.