ONLY half of the people who have been in close contact with a coronavirus patient in Blackburn have been reached by England’s track-and-trace service.
It comes as Blackburn With Darwen Council enforced a limit on the number of people allowed to visit a household amidst a worrying spike in Covid-19 cases in the area.
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The shocking figure was revealed today by the public health director of Blackburn with Darwen Council, Professor Dominic Harrison.
He warned of a “exponential growth” of new Covid-19 infections if the system did not become more efficient.
The government has said the NHS scheme had helped identify thousands of cases – but it is not clear why half of the contacts provided had not yet been reached.
The government’s most recent statistics show that of the people in England who tested positive for Covid-19 between 2-8 July, 17.1 per cent could not be reached – while a further 4.1 per cent did not provide their phone number.
It said 71.1 per cent of the contacts provided were reached, but 21.8 per cent of those who originally tested positive said they had not been in close contact with anyone during the required time frame.
A leaked report, which was seen by the Independent, suggested that fewer than half of contacts were reached in Oldham, St Helens, Manchester and Rochdale.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme, Prof Harrison said that Blackburn with Darwen now faces a “rising tide” of infections.
“The key issue here is that 40 per cent of people who are infected by someone with Covid-19 who goes for tests because they have symptoms, will be infected by them before they have those symptoms,” said Prof Harrison.
“So, there’s a 48 hour window which is critical to get the contacts of the first case contacted, and if we don’t get them contacted, and if they don’t then get tested and self-isolated, and they then have symptoms, we do risk the spread progressing.”
People living in the area are being told not to hug anyone who does not live with them.
It comes after it emegred that the Jamia Ghosia mosque in Blackburn is under police investigation and health officials after holding a funeral on July 13, which was attended by 250 people.
The Imam has since tested positive for coronavirus and is recovering – while the mosque has emailed congregation members and advised them to self-isolate.
“We have had 114 cases in the last two weeks and 97 are South Asian, which is why we want to minimise household contact,” Mr Harrison said.
“We know they are mainly in South Asian areas and they’re in areas with a high number of terraced houses with high numbers of occupants in the house, four or five or more.”
It follows Leicester being plunged into a “lightning lockdown” on June 30 after a spike in infections.
The lockdown resulted in all non-essential retail stores closing, as well as hospitality venues, while these venues reopened in the rest of the UK on July 4.
And last weekend, the government drew up a list of 20 councils facing the worst outbreaks in England – which included Blackburn with Darwen local authority as well as Bradford, Kirklees and Rochdale.
Topping the list is Leicester, followed by Rochdale and Bradford in the ranking for the areas with the highest rate of coronavirus cases.
Blackburn is fifth on the list – but the council have now taken the precautions which will hopefully mean the town won’t have to go into a local lockdown.
Mr Harrison said it was now “up to everyone” in the town to ensure a dreaded local lockdown was avoided.
He said: “These steps will help and we are appealing to everyone in Blackburn with Darwen to follow them to protect themselves and their loved ones.
“If we don’t, a local lockdown, like in Leicester, becomes a very real possibility.
“We can only avoid further lockdown measures if we work together.”
He added that a rise in targeted testing would spark a surge in case numbers in the next week to ten days.
But should these continue to rise after two weeks, authorities would “consider reversing some of the national lockdown lifting measures locally one by one”.