No change to Preston's local Covid rules - but a police warning to those who flout the new national law from Monday

There is now "widespread community transmission" of coronavirus in areas like Preston where rates of the disease have started to rise significantly, according to Lancashire's director of public health.
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However, the city - and the rest of Lancashire - has not not seen any changes to the localised restrictions currently in force, following a weekly review by the government.

Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi told a media briefing that he was hopeful that Preston would not become "the next Bolton" - which currently has the highest Covid rate in England - in spite of the fact that on Friday it spent a second consecutive as the third-worst affected area. The number of cases per 100,000 people increased again to stand 99.2 in the week to 8th September, with 142 new cases identified over the same period.

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The public health boss also said that people without coronavirus symptoms should continue to get themselves tested in those areas of Lancashire - including Preston and the east of the county - where community testing stations have been set up for that purpose. It comes after the health secretary this week appeared to blame a lack of capacity on people seeking tests even though they did not feel unwell.

Additional restrictions have been in force in Preston for over a monthAdditional restrictions have been in force in Preston for over a month
Additional restrictions have been in force in Preston for over a month

"We need to test more people to find where the virus is hiding [in areas with higher rates] to disrupt the transmission," said Dr. Karunanithi, adding that he had asked the government to classify Lancashire as a priority area for testing so that it was not rationed as it had been elsewhere.

He said that it was unsurprising to find cases in recently-reopened schools in the county, because of the background level of infection - but stressed that any incidences were being well-managed.

Dr. Karunanithi also said that "meticulous planning" had been put in place ahead of the return to universities.

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"We are preparing [to enable] students to have an enjoyable experience, but a safe experience as well - not just within the universities themselves, but the night-time economy and [during] fresher's week.

"There are very well-rehearsed procedures from [dealing with] accommodation to supporting students - but if testing capacity becomes a constraint that will hamper [our efforts]."

Dr. Karunanithi said that he was not surprised to see rates increase elsewhere in Central Lancashire – most notably South Ribble, which now has a case rate of 46.9 and 52 new cases in the week to 8th September – because of the “commuter flows” in the region and the general increase nationally.

He also warned that there were "worrying signs" of an increase in the proportion of over-65s being affected by the recent rises in cases across the county - after they originally appeared restricted largely to younger age groups - as well as a "very small" increase in hospitalisations.

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"There is every likelihood that if we don't get the guidance followed and people who are symptomatic aren't staying home and participating in the test and trace programme, this will spill over into the vulnerable population There is still a large proportion of [people who haven't] had the virus, so we are still susceptible.

"None of us is safe until it is safe for all of us - and there is quite a lot of virus around, so we need to do our part.

"[This is] not about restricting us, it's about restricting opportunities for the virus. This is going to be really important until we have a breakthrough in term of a vaccine or some sort of medical advancement."

Meanwhile, Lancashire Police have warned those who repeatedly or blatantly flout Covid restrictions – including new national restrictions coming into force on Monday limiting most indoor and outdoor gatherings to six people – that they will face the full fines that the force has the power to impose.

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"We're a neighbourhood policing force and that's the style we will always keep. However, for the 0.1 percent of people who are habitually disobeying the regulations, or those who have gone out of their way to disobey [them], there will be a shift in policing stance - we will move straight to enforcement," said deputy chief constable Terry Woods, who thanked for the overwhelming majority of Lancashire residents for attempting to stick to the rules since the outbreak began.

"For the rest of the population, we will engage, encourage and educate - but for the 0.1 percent who are causing issues for the rest, we will be enforcing through fines."

Those penalties range from £100 for breaking the new 'rule of six', to £1,000 for those who do not self-isolate upon their return from a country with which the UK does not have a transport corridor, to £10,000 for anybody organising an illegal gathering. Dedicated Covid patrols will be deployed, DCC Woods said.

Although he appealed for people to continue to follow the guidance, Dr. Karunanithi said it was important not to "point the finger".

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"It's not just people relaxing [their guard] - it's also about the conditions we create as a society and a government to make it safe for people to come out.

"It's an equal partnership between the citizen and the state - and it's a really tricky balance."

TESTING STATION ON THE MOVE

From Monday, the community testing facility at the Issa Medical Centre in Preston, which offers tests to people without symptoms, will relocate to the former parks depot on Moor Park It is accessible form Moor Park Avenue, with parking available in the Moor Park car park opposite Preston North End.