BLACKBURN with Darwen tonight escaped being hit with stricter restrictions over its high Covid rate linked to the more transmissible ‘Indian variant’.
However, the prime minister said that the strain could make it “more difficult” for England to move to step four of the government’s road map out of lockdown in June when all restrictions will be lifted.
But for now indoor hospitality and indoor leisure venues will be allowed to reopen on Monday in line with the planned road map.
The PM said the army would be deployed on the streets of Blackburn and Bolton handing out tests to help the surge testing efforts.
There will also be an acceleration of the vaccine rollout there, including longer opening hours at vaccination centres.
But Blackburn with Darwen public health director Dominic Harrison has told of his frustration that the Government is not ‘surge vaccinating’ the borough and a request for this was rejected.
He said: “I am very pleased the PM did not go down the route of suggesting localised lockdowns as Scotland has.
“I am much less pleased that he has not given a clear offer to us of ‘surge vaccination’ to everyone in the most affected wards in Blackburn with Darwen.
“Common sense suggests that our borough as an area of continued higher transmission of the virus should have had an accelerated vaccination programme from January. The Council wrote to Matt Hancock asking for this and were told this was not going to happen. We now have the predicted rise in rates and a more transmissible variant.
“People will be able to draw their own conclusions from that about the claim from the government that ‘we are doing all we can to reduce the risks’.”
Mr Johnson urged people to “think twice” ahead of travelling to areas with higher incidences of the Indian variant and staying with family and friends within those areas.
He said: “I would urge people just to think twice about that.
“We want people in those areas to recognise that there is extra risk, an extra threat of disruption to progress caused by this new variant and just to exercise their discretion and judgment in a way I’m sure that they have been throughout this pandemic.
“If you’re seeing loved ones, think really carefully about the risk to them, especially if they haven’t had that second dose or if it hasn’t yet had time to take full effect,” he said.
He added: “I want us to trust people to be responsible, and to do the right thing. That’s the way to live with this virus while protecting the NHS and restoring our freedoms.
“It’s very clear now we’re going to have to live with this new variant of the virus for some time so let’s work together, and let’s exercise caution and common sense.”
The Prime Minister told the Downing Street press conference: “I do not believe that we need, on the present evidence, to delay our road map and we will proceed with our plan to move to step three in England from Monday.
“But I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress and could make it more difficult to move to step four in June.”
Mr Johnson said that if the Indian variant proves to be “significantly more transmissible” than other strains “we’re likely to face some hard choices”.
In the latest figures, Blackburn with Darwen had 111.6 cases of Covid per 100,000 people, the third worst infection rate in the country behind Erewash and Bolton.