BLACKBURN has today overtaken Leicester to become Britain’s coronavirus hotspot after cases doubled in just one week.
The borough of Blackburn with Darwen in Lancashire now has a rate of 79.2 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 in the seven days to July 17.
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Leicester has a rate of 77.7 per 100,000 people over the same period, according to the latest data from Public Health England (PHE).
Health officials in Blackburn introduced new measures last week to enforce social distancing after warning of a “rising tide” of infections, centred mainly on the town’s large Asian community.
Leicester is itself currently in lockdown.
The PHE figures show in Blackburn there were 118 cases in the seven days to July 17, with a rate of 79.2 cases per 100,000 people.
This compares to 63 cases in the previous seven days up to July 10, with a previous infection rate of 42.3 cases per 100,000 people.
Leicester had 276 new cases in the seven days to July 17, giving 77.7 cases per 100,000 people.
This is down on the previous week up to July 10, which had 429 cases and a previous infection rate 120.8 cases per 100,000 people.
In new data released today, Blackburn and Leicester are followed by Rochdale (44.1), Bradford (39.5), Luton (33.6) and Kirklees (25.3).
Herefordshire (24.5), Peterborough (22.4), Rotherham (22.3) and Sandwell (20.2) complete the new top 10 list.
The new alarming figures come as cops probe a Blackburn mosque for letting too many people attend a funeral after the Imam tested positive for coronavirus.
Around 250 worshippers piled in for the service despite government guidelines only allowing 30 in total.
Now officials are desperately trying to trace all those that attended Jamia Ghosia mosque in Blackburn on July 13 to urge them to quarantine.
The chairman of Jamia Ghosia mosque said they thought there were no restrictions on numbers if hygiene and distancing measures were in place.
Worshippers have been told all future ceremonies will be limited as cops and public health investigate.
However, it is feared contact tracers have failed to reach half of those exposed to Covid-19 cases in Blackburn.
Professor Dominic Harrison, public health director of Blackburn with Darwen Council, said locals should be “concerned” by the new figures.
We should be concerned the figures have gone up, but I entirely expected them to and I expect them to rise again this week.”
He told the BBC: “We should be concerned the figures have gone up, but I entirely expected them to and I expect them to rise again this week.”
When asked about about a potential local lockdown, he added: “We would only use those powers as a very, very last resort.
“We’ve had good co-operation, so I would be very reluctant to use the powers.”
The Lancashire town brought in extra restrictions last Tuesday and said the borough of 148,000 people was facing a “rising tide” of cases.
Prof Harrison said data showed household “clusters” of infections, suggesting one person was infecting others in the same household and this was mainly affecting the south Asian population.
Blackburn with Darwen borough has an Asian population of around 28 per cent.
Local Asian councillors said their community should not be stigmatised and said large families, sometimes looking after elderly relatives, living in small terraced houses was the reason for the elevated infection rates.
The local council introduced new measures warning the public to reduce household visiting to one household plus two members from another household, to wear face masks in all public spaces and asked people not to hug or shake hands on greeting.
The local authority also increased inspections on small corner shops and ramped up testing with mobile testing units and targeted testing sites.
Infection rates are expected to rise as more testing is done, before they fall back again.
Prof Harrison ruled out a Leicester-type total lockdown, but said if the figures for Blackburn do not turn around by July 27, then they will go through the lockdown lifting measures, reversing them one by one.
Last week, Rochdale joined Blackburn the become the latest region to bring in five new rules in a desperate bid to avoid a local lockdown.
Residents must wear face coverings in shops – a week earlier than the rest of the country are told to do so on July 24.
They must wear face coverings in public “as much as possible” and limit visitors into their home to just two people.
Locals need to keep two metres apart at all times and avoid physical contact with anyone outside their household – including hugging or shaking hands.
The strict instructions must be followed and will be reviewed in two weeks’ time.