'We need to consider how the Indian variant will affect our community': Preston council leader calls for local authorities to manage jab rollout

City council leader Matthew Brown says government efforts on 'surge vaccinations' are "too little too late" for areas worst affected by Covid - and says he asked for virus hotspots to be prioritised for jabs months ago.

Coun Brown has echoed calls for local authorities to be given more control over their vaccine rollouts, due to rising cases of the Indian variant, including in parts of Lancashire.

And he added he wanted to avoid local lockdowns as far as possible to avoid worsening the impact on disadvantaged communities which have already been badly hit.

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Lancashire residents were advised this week to “think local and think twice” before taking advantage of the latest lifting of restrictions, in light of the rising Indian variant cases by Lancashire County Council’s director of public health.

And today Coun Brown said he would be working alongside Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi to monitor the new variant and has urged people in the city to remain vigilant in order to escape more localised lockdowns.

The news comes as cases in Bolton have risen to their highest since January, and Blackburn with Darwen has second-highest rate, up week-on-week from 86.2 to 131.6, with 197 new cases.

Coun Matthew Brown has called the Government's surge vaccination efforts 'too little, too late'

Coun. Brown said: “We understand this is a worrying and constantly changing situation. It is too early to tell what effect this will have and whether this new variant is going to be of serious risk.

"Our concern at the moment is that evidence shows it is significantly more transmissible and we need to consider how this will impact areas with lower vaccine uptake and where there are poorer communities who will be worse affected.

"We are working very closely with the Director of Public Health for Lancashire and the Lancashire Resilience Forum and are monitoring the position closely regarding this latest variant.

"A robust ‘Local 0’ contract tracing system operated by the city council is in place and we also host a lateral flow testing site now open six days a week based centrally at the Fishergate shopping centre.

Cases of the new Indian variant are rising in the North West

"Like most people, we do not want local lockdowns and would strongly urge the public to do their bit by being careful and following the restrictions still in place.

"Vaccination is very important and we continue to urge everyone to get vaccinated as soon as invited, and undergo regular testing. These measures will help us all in the continuing fight against this virus."

Amid the recent clamour for local areas to be given more freedom to manage the latest phase of the pandemic response themselves, Blackburn with Darwen’s director of public health Professor Dominic Harrison said it could be offered “where we feel that that it would make a difference, for instance, to the capacity of people on low incomes to comply with self-isolation guidance once they’re confirmed as positive”.

Council leader Matthew Brown said local authority areas should have more control over the vaccine rollout

Over 6,200 people got jabs in Bolton over the weekend and surge vaccination is due to start in Blackburn in light of rising Indian variant cases.

He claimed that he asked for vaccinations to be redirected to Preston months ago, and said the Government's decision to introduce surge vaccinations is 'too little, too late'.

Recent Government figures show that in Preston, people aged 25-29 accounted for the highest number of cases between 5 and 11 May, with 10, or 18.9 per cent of the total.

Those aged 30-34 accounted for 17 per cent of the total, followed by those aged 15-19 at 13.2 per cent.

Case rates for Preston in the seven days to May 13 stood at 34.2 per 100,000 population, a two per cent drop - but Chorley noted a 58.8 per cent rise in the case rate for the same period at 38.9 per 100,000.

South Ribble's case rate for that period was 22.6 per 100,000 population.

Coun. Brown added: "The risk is, there could potentially be more deaths and hospitalisations in areas where the vaccine uptake is lower. This will particularly affect those who have had to take risks through the pandemic because they could not afford to isolate themselves.

"Low-income families, BAME communities and those with disabilities have already been disproportionately affected by this pandemic, and we have to do what we can in areas where this variant is appearing.

"People need more support to protect their health and incomes going forward if we are to face restrictions again. If we have to lock things down again in order to stop people from dying, we need to make sure it does not come at the expense of incomes, jobs and businesses where more people could face being plunged into poverty.

"As a council leader, I have been asking for more than what the Government have given us all the way through this pandemic. I have asked for the vaccinations to be prioritised to areas where Covid has a greater impact in case something like this happened and only now are they offering surge vaccinations.

"No Government has ever experienced anything like this, but the results to see how many people have been ill or died is just tragic. It is my motivation to make sure the community is safe.

"I urge people to consider their new freedoms and be responsible. Crucially, having a vaccination is the best we can do to keep people alive."

David Greenhalgh, Conservative leader at Bolton Council, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there was no sign yet that cases were coming under control, adding that “our cases are still rising”.

Similar to Coun Matthew Brown and Professor Dominic Harrison, he is not in favour of local lockdowns, adding: “people travel 50 yards across a county boundary to access hospitality that they can’t in their own area”.

He said: “We are putting all the measures in that we can at the moment. We have community spread, there’s no doubt about that, and we’re holding back a variant that would appear – although the evidence is still being gathered – to be a little bit more transmissible, easily transmissible.

“The majority of our cases are in very much our younger age groups – primary school, secondary school and in their 20s.

“We still haven’t got an increase in hospitalisation and severe illness, which is hugely welcome, those figures still remain low. We’re doing everything we can, the Government has sent in surge vaccinations and surge testing. We’re doing everything we can, but I think the next two weeks we will still see our cases rising.

"The people of Bolton have a great spirit and they come together when times are difficult, but this would be a very, very difficult situation to manage, I believe – if we went into a lockdown that we have experience of, personally experienced, in a town, that did not work."

The Department for Health was contacted for a comment.

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