85% of new coronavirus infections in Blackburn are among South Asians as local lockdown looms

Dominic Harrison, Blackburn with Darwen’s director of public health, 

A staggering 85 per cent of new Covid-19 infections in Blackburn with Darwen are among its South Asian population, a local health chief revealed today amid fears it will become the second place in England to be hit with a local lockdown because of a spike in coronavirus cases.

For the next month, only two people from the same family will be allowed to visit another household indoors in the Lancashire authority and everyone must wear face masks in any enclosed public space.

People are also being urged not to hug anyone from outside their own household and to get regularly tested at new mobile centres as part of the measures to avoid a Leicester-style lockdown, which council bosses say is a ‘very real’ threat.

Mass testing began at the weekend after 114 people caught the virus in the last two weeks. 

Latest Public Health England (PHE) data shows Blackburn with Darwen has 47 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 population in the last week — second only to Leicester’s rate of 101.3.

Dominic Harrison, the authority’s director of public health, said 85 per cent of the 114 new cases were people from South Asian backgrounds. That’s despite the South Asian community only accounting for 30 per cent of the council’s 150,000 population. 

Many other areas of England which have the current highest infection rates of Covid-19, such as Bradford, Rochdale and Oldham, also have large South Asian communities.

Professor Harrison told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘We have what we call a rising tide event rather than an outbreak. 

‘We have a number of cases rising in specific areas across a significant community but not a single big outbreak but not a single big outbreak like Kirklees or other areas that had a workplace outbreak.

‘What we’re seeing from looking at postcode data is a single case being infected then going back to a household and all of that household getting infected.

Blackburn (pictured: the town centre) could be the next area to be plunged into local lockdown after a spike of coronavirus cases, it was revealed yesterday

Blackburn (pictured: the town centre) could be the next area to be plunged into local lockdown after a spike of coronavirus cases, it was revealed yesterday

Blackburn with Darwen Council (pictured: an aerial view of the council building) yesterday announced only two people can now visit another person at home

Blackburn with Darwen Council (pictured: an aerial view of the council building) yesterday announced only two people can now visit another person at home

For the next month, Blackburn with Darwen residents will have to elbow bump instead of hugging or embracing people from outwith their immediately family (Boris greeting staff at the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust on Monday)

For the next month, Blackburn with Darwen residents will have to elbow bump instead of hugging or embracing people from outwith their immediately family (Boris greeting staff at the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust on Monday)

What rules have Blackburn with Darwen Council put in place? 

These are the rules which Blackburn with Darwen Council has announced today:  

  • A limit of 2 people from the same household allowed to visit another household
  • Please wear face coverings in all enclosed public spaces Avoid hugging or shaking hands with anyone outside of your immediate family
  • Small shops – we will be stepping up our Public Protection advice to ensure that guidelines around face coverings, social distancing, good hygiene and increased ventilation is being followed
  • Get tested – even if you don’t have symptoms this will help with case finding

‘And when we look at that data we can see clusters in a part of the town but the clusters are household clusters and a number of those are causing the rising tide event.

‘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.

‘We’ve had 114 new cases in the last two weeks and about 97 of those are South Asian.’ 

A mountain of evidence has shown Britons from black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds are more likely to contract the disease and die from it than white people.  

Scientists have yet to pin down exactly why minority groups are at a heightened risk of infection.

But they believe it may be partly explained by minority groups being more likely to live in deprived areas, live in large households and use public transport, where they interact with more potential carriers of the disease.

People from minority backgrounds are also more likely to have underlying health conditions, which is often related to poverty.

But experts say this can’t explain the whole story and increased rates of vitamin D deficiency among minorities are being investigated.

Blackburn with Darwen residents are now being told to wear face coverings in all enclosed public settings — including at work, hair dressers, beauty salons, pubs, libraries and museums.

People are being encouraged to bump elbows with other people out with their immediately family instead of hugging or embracing them.

The council is also offering advice to small shops which struggle to enforce social distancing to help make them more 'Covid secure' (file)

The council is also offering advice to small shops which struggle to enforce social distancing to help make them more ‘Covid secure’ (file)

Testing has also been made available to anyone who wants one, with residents being actively encouraged to take a swab even if they don’t have symptoms.

And only two people from the same family are now permitted to visit another household indoors. 

This differs from the national guidance, which says two households of any size can meet inside.

The council is also carrying out inspections on small corner shops and offering advice to those which struggle to enforce social distancing to help make them more ‘Covid secure’.

Professor Harrison said he was particularly worried about these shops because many older people from South Asian backgrounds go shopping every day for fresh food.  

Professor Harrison added: ‘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.’

He said the official number of cases may rise quite dramatically in the next week – but told the public not to panic because this will be due to increased testing. 

But if cases continue to rise after two weeks, then a localised lockdown would have to be considered to contain the virus’ spread.

Professor Harrison said it would be a gradual reimposing of the measures, rather than a blanket lockdown like was seen in Leicester.

Blackburn with Darwen has not yet seen a rise in coronavirus hospital admissions, which suggests the rise in cases in recent.

Professor Harrison said this boosts the council’s chances of containing the new resurgence before it spirals out of control. 

He said there was no evidence of workplace outbreaks or widespread transmission within schools. 

Council leader Mohammed Khan said: ‘I can reassure all local residents that the council is working with different agencies and organisations across the borough to help get the message out to everyone that life cannot go back to normal just yet, and we must all make sacrifices to avoid a local lockdown. 

‘Please continue to do your bit to stick to the rules to protect yourself and your family.’ 

Rate of Covid-19 infection in England dropped in May BEFORE lockdown restrictions were lifted 

The rate of coronavirus infection in England was significantly reduced before lockdown restrictions were lifted, a government study has found. 

More than 120,000 volunteers were tested across England in the month of May as part of the country’s largest coronavirus surveillance study.

Every infected person was passing the virus on to 0.57 people during May, just before schools and shops re-opened, the results show.

The finding is significantly lower than what was estimated by the Government at the time — between 0.7 and one —and proves the lockdown was effective at curbing the spread of the virus.

The reproduction rate — the average number of people each Covid-19 patient infects — was expected to be 2.4 before lockdown started.  

The research, run by Imperial College London, also gives an insight into who was more likely to catch the coronavirus in May.

Young adults aged between 18 and 24, people of Asian ethnicity, and care home workers were most likely to test positive for Covid-19.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the study, which has been repeated in June, is crucial to the country’s ongoing battle with coronavirus. 

‘This ambitious testing programme will help us better understand the spread of the virus to date, predict how it may spread in the future and inform our response to the pandemic,’ he said.

‘It shows the impact our national lockdown efforts have had and demonstrates that we have taken the right actions at the right time.’

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