BLACKBURN and Luton look set to go into local lockdown as early as next week.
Both towns have joined Leicester as ‘areas of intervention’ due to rising numbers of coronavirus cases.
⚠️ Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest news & updates
Both are now at the same level as the Midlands city which was subject to the UK’s first full local lockdown last month.
Public health chiefs plan to impose lockdown restrictions in Blackburn from July 31 after failing to reduce the population’s stubbornly high infection rate.
It currently stands at 80 cases per 100,000 residents – second only to Leicester and twice as high as anywhere else in the UK.
The high infection rate is due to Blackburn’s large proportion of South Asian residents, according to the local public health director Professor Dominic Harrison.
Almost three in ten of the town’s population are Indian or Pakistani.
Professor Harrison has said the virus has spread more widely in Blackburn because cases are “clustering” in the South Asian community, who are more likely to live in large, multi-generational households that are also more likely to be smaller terraced houses.
Of 114 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Blackburn in the first fortnight of July, 97 had South Asian heritage.
Worryingly, one in five new cases were residents under the age of 19.
Another area on the watchlist is Pendle in Lancashire which PHE have identified as an ‘area of enhanced support’.
Bradford, Northampton and Rotherham have called ‘areas of concern’ due to rising coronavirus cases.
Health chiefs were meeting last night to scrutinise the latest infection data across Blackburn, which will inform how drastic the lockdown measures will be.
It could involve a Leicester-style lockdown where pubs, shops, hairdressers and schools were closed and only essential travel was permitted.
Or it could involve a lighter set of restrictions initially.
A formal decision will be made on Monday, when the next review is due.
A source involved in drawing up the measures said “plans have actively been made” for extra lockdown restrictions to come into effect next Friday.
That date has been chosen as it is the day before a raft of new venues reopen nationwide.
At the very least it will delay the reopening of venues scheduled to open their doors this weekend and next week.
It means gyms, sports centres, swimming pools, beauty salons, nail bars and casinos in Blackburn will remain shut.
Cllr Mohammed Khan, Leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council: “We need to keep up the momentum with our strong prevention work so we agree its sensible not to relax the easing of restrictions at the moment to stop the spread.
“We have already decided to delay the opening of our council leisure facilities along with introducing other localised prevention measures.
“We feel that accelerating our control measures in this way will assist us to move out of having higher COVID rates even faster – we are grateful for the Government’s help in our local plans on this.”
It will also delay the changes in the blanket work from home guidance for workers in Blackburn, which are due to change from August 1 to allow staff to return to their offices.
And blanket rules barring all but essential use of public transport – due to be dropped for the rest of England next Saturday – will also remain in place.
Small wedding receptions involving less than 30 guests will also not be allowed to go ahead in Blackburn.
The plans are being led by the local authority, who have been praised by the Government for their proactive and sophisticated planning, in contrast to the botched record of Leicester City council.
A government source said: “At the very least, the next set of easements won’t happen.
“It’s a decision they’re taking locally and it’s been very locally led and we don’t want it to be Westminster saying this or that.
“It will be gyms won’t be able to open in Blackburn as they battle to get their transmission down.”
Last week Professor Harrison warned Blackburn had two weeks to reduce its infection rate or else lockdown measures would have to be re-imposed.
A spike of cases in Blackburn earlier this month was blamed on a mass breach of social distancing rules at a funeral attended by 250 people.
The imam who led prayers at the Jamia Ghosia Mosque in the town tested positive following the funeral on July 13.
The service breached rules that cap the number of attendees at 30.
It is not yet known when a formal decision may be made on restrictions in Luton.