Blackpool has been declared a Covid “enhanced response area” to bring it in line with the rest of Lancashire, which was given the status last week.
It means that residents of the resort – like those living in Fylde and Wyre – are being advised to exercise “particular caution” about mixing with people not in their household. Where possible, they are asked to meet people outdoors rather than inside and to “minimise travel” in and out of the wider Lancashire area.
Testing capacity will also be increased, but the package of measures – which includes support for door-to-door visits to encourage people to take up offers of testing and vaccination – will not see the county get a blanket rollout of the vaccine to all over-18s.
The move comes as the resort’s case rate more than doubled in the space of a week to stand at its highest rate since 9th February, reaching 164 per 100,000 people in the seven days to 9th June. A total of 229 individual cases were reported over the same period.
The data was published just before the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced a month-long delay to the lifting of the last remaining lockdown restrictions until 19th July.
The decision means that capacity limits will remain in place in hospitality, entertainment and sporting venues – while it will still not be permitted for more than six people or two households to mix indoors.
However, all three Fylde coast council areas have far lower infection rates than the current Lancashire average of 236 per 100,000 people. The top six council areas with the highest Covid case rates in the UK are all in Lancashire.
In common with most areas of the county, the highest infection levels in Blackpool Fylde and Wyre are in the 15-19 and 20-24-year-old age ranges.
Blackpool Council’s director of public health Arif Rajpura said he welcomed any support for testing and vaccinations brought by the new enhanced response status conferred in the town.
“As it stands, most of the offers of practical support are already being delivered on the ground as we have a robust and proactive programme of community testing and vaccination in place.
“Infection rates in Blackpool have been consistently below the North West average throughout the pandemic. However, in line with many other areas across England, Blackpool has recently experienced an uptick in cases mainly related to outbreaks in a small number of community settings, particularly amongst our young adults who have not yet had their vaccinations.
“This is to be expected as society opens up, and this is why we all need to continue to follow all the COVID guidelines including hands, face, space and fresh air. The important point is that this is not currently translating into increases in the number of people who are seriously ill or hospitalised.
“What I would urge is that when offered a vaccination people should readily accept it as that is the best way of restoring normal life.”
Meanwhile, Blackpool Council leader Lynn Williams stressed that the resort was not subject to any restrictions that did not apply elsewhere in England.
“Blackpool is open for business and there is no need for people to cancel their travel plans. This is not a travel ban, it is simply about asking people to be vigilant and take extra care in going about their daily lives.
“Our tourism industry is operating to COVID-safe standards, supported by enforcement activity and COVID marshals on the streets. We have mechanisms in place for people to be able to report potential breaches of compliance and we will act on those as appropriate to protect residents and visitors alike.
“To ensure they have a safe and enjoyable experience, people should plan ahead, take a cautious and sensible approach to social contact with others and follow all rules around social distancing and wearing face coverings where required,” Cllr Williams said.
Lancashire County Council’s director of public health Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi acknowledged that the delay to the complete end of lockdown would “come as a disappointment to many”.
However, he added: “It is the sensible approach given the rapid rise in cases that is being felt across the country.
“Lancashire is at the heart of this, with large numbers of infections in East and Central parts of the county, which is being driven by the Delta variant that was first discovered in India. Cases are also rising fast in other parts of the county.
“We are seeing a rise in hospital admissions, particularly in younger residents, although it is still too early to know the full impact of this wave. One impact that is clear is the significant disruption the rise in cases is causing to our children and young people’s education, with new outbreaks emerging almost on a daily basis.”
Research published in The Lancet on Monday suggests that the Delta variant of the virus – which first emerged in India – doubles the risk of hospitalisation for anybody who contracts it compared to previous strains.
It is also thought to be up to 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha or Kent strain that was dominant during the first half of the year.
Dr, Karunanithi said that fact was one of the reasons it was vital that Lancashire residents took advantage of the additional testing available in the county after all areas – except, at that point, Blackpool – were given “enhanced response” status last week. Lab-analysed PCR tests are now available to all residents whether they have symptoms or not.
“We are therefore strongly encouraging all residents, including children of primary school age, to take up this offer so that we can break the chains of transmission.
“It is also imperative that everyone receives two doses of the Covid vaccine to give themselves maximum protection against the Delta variant.
“As part of this strengthened package of support, we are ramping up our vaccination offers. This includes a number of pharmacy vaccination sites, alongside our mass vaccination
centres, that will be providing walk-in appointments all this week.
“It is important you check opening times and which doses are available at each site before you visit.
“These vaccination centres are open to anyone eligible aged 18 and over. If you are unsure if you are eligible, then please come and speak to the team who will be happy to go through the eligibility criteria.
“As well as testing regularly and coming forward for vaccinations, it is also vitally important that the public continue to play their part by following the guidance on hands, face, space and fresh air while they enjoy the many freedoms we currently have,” appealed Dr. Karunanithi.