BLACKBURN with Darwen has the highest cumulative rate of coronavirus infection since the start of the pandemic in March, its public health director has revealed.

And the national test and trace system is only managing to find 51 per cent of the contacts of those with positive Covid-19 diagnosis.

Professor Dominic Harrison said that this low rate of contact tracing was contributing to the spread of the virus and he was seeking a greater role for councils in the work.

The figures come from new academic studies into the behaviour of the virus UK-wide.

An analysis of the cumulative case rates for coronavirus in every local authority shows that between March 6 and November 6 Blackburn with Darwen has recorded 8,060 infections.

That is a rate per 100,000 population of 5,834.2 - the worst in the UK.

Second is Oldham with 5,176.1 and third Knowsley in Merseyside with 4,695.

Blackburn with Darwen's figure is despite there not being a single case in residents who would qualify among the top wealthiest 10 per cent in the UK.

In contrast the infection rates are concentrated in the lowest income brackets with those in the bottom 10 per cent 12.8 times more likely to have the disease than those in the second highest income bracket.

Hospitalisation data for borough residents shows that many more elderly people and individuals from South Asian backgrounds are being admitted on to wards for treatment.

Professor Harrison said: "The cumulative case rate comes from the fact the real Covid infection rate was rising when we came of the first lockdown.

"Blackburn with Darwen had a slow start but coronavirus was quietly getting into the population.

"The borough was behind the first peak nationwide but when the first lockdown was lifted in May our real rates were rising which explains why they continued to go up.

"The figures show that deprivation was a factor in this.

"The fact that only 51 per cent of contact tracing is completed by the national test and trace system in Blackburn with Darwen, the third lowest rate in the country, has undoubtedly contributed to our continuing high rates of spread.

"We currently do case tracing and find 90 per cent of those who test positive and are making the case to government for local authorities like Blackburn with Darwen to be involved more in the test and trace system.

"The hospitalisation analysis shows that our residents ill enough to be going into hospital are more likely to be older or of a BAME background.

"If you are a 50-year-old of South Asian heritage your risk factor of becoming seriously ill and going to hospital is the same as for a white British person aged 60."