OFFICERS were out in Blackburn overnight ensuring people were complying to coronavirus lockdown restrictions in the area, after a new multi-agency strategy was announced on Friday.

Stronger enforcement is now in place for both individuals and businesses who flout the rules – with unlimited fines and closure of premises both options if they fail to comply.

Blackburn with Darwen has one of the highest rates of infection nationally and is classed as an ‘area of intervention’.

However while patrolling on Friday night, officers in Blackburn said the majority of people they came across were doing a ‘fantastic job’ of adhering to the rules.

A spokesman said: “We have been speaking to some members of our community who still appear confused about what is and is not allowed during the current coronavirus pandemic.

“To be very clear, it is currently against the law for anyone in Blackburn to have anyone who is not from your household to visit you (except in very specific circumstances), and that includes people both in your house or in your garden.

“Whilst the majority of people are doing a fantastic job at following these rules, we are still speaking to people who either don’t understand this simple requirement, or are choosing to ignore it.

“From today (Saturday), we will be adopting a more robust stance when it comes to enforcement and those who choose to ignore these simple rules will find themselves at very real risk of receiving a fine.

“We are all in this together and the sooner we all follow the rules the sooner we will be allowed to visit and socialise with our friends and families again.” 

As of Friday, council protection officers and the police increased their visits to venues such as pubs, shops, barbers, shisha bars, sports areas and open areas where people may gather for an unlicensed music event or other gathering.

Police and the council are receiving calls from members of the public who are concerned about people and places not adhering to restrictions.

When a concern is raised about a particular place, the intelligence will be acted upon and a joint visit will take place. If found to be in breach of Covid regulations, advice and education will be provided. Breaches include but are not limited to, a lack of social distancing, not wearing face coverings when it is required and also separate households mixing.

If people do not take the advice then enforcement action will be taken. Depending on the severity, this could mean administering a fine, or even closing a premises down.

Councillor Mohammed Khan, Leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, said: “We all want to get back to doing the things we enjoy with the people we love.

“As tough as they may be for some, the restrictions are in place to keep us all safe as we face the worst public health crisis in our lifetimes.

“Our Public Protection Team is working incredibly hard and has undertaken thousands of visits since the beginning of the initial lockdown.

“The majority of the businesses they have visited are adhering to the strict guidelines and I’d like to thank them for their efforts, but we really need to take a hard line with those who are flouting the rules.

“We are doing everything in our power to reduce the number of cases of coronavirus in our borough, but we can’t do it alone – only together we can make a real difference.”

Superintendent Andrea Barrow of East Division, said: “We know this approach seems harsh but we have no choice. The rate of infection in Blackburn continues to be high and we know that community transmission is a main factor.

“We want nothing more than to get back to normal, but the only way we will achieve that is to stick to the rules provided by Government – they have been set out in the interest of everyone’s health and safety.

“On the whole, the public have been superb in sticking to the guidelines but we need to make sure everyone is doing their bit.

“Enforcement is obviously a last resort and not what we want. It’s been an incredibly challenging few months for our borough’s businesses and we want to see them thriving again.

“But we also need to make it clear that we will take a no tolerance approach to repeat offenders. We will be working closely with our colleagues at the Council to increase our presence and target known hotspots – this is something we have been doing since the beginning of the pandemic but now we will be ramping those efforts up.

“I know that the different restrictions will be confusing for people. My plea is that individuals and businesses take the time to learn what is expected of them and make the necessary amendments.

“Please be responsible when you go out and make sure you follow the rules – we know it’s tough but this won’t last forever, if we stick to the rules.”