Blackburn has overtaken Leicester with the highest coronavirus infection rate in England, new figures have shown.
The borough of Blackburn with Darwen in Lancashire has a rate of 79.2 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 in the seven days to July 17, according to the latest data from Public Health England (PHE).
Leicester has a rate of 77.7 per 100,000 people over the same period.
Health officials in Blackburn introduced new measures last week to enforce social distancing after warning of a “rising tide” of infections, centred mainly on the town’s large Asian community.
Leicester is itself currently in lockdown.
The PHE figures show in Blackburn there were 118 cases in the seven days to July 17, with a rate of 79.2 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 63 cases in the previous seven days up to July 10, with a previous infection rate of 42.3 cases per 100,000 people.
Leicester had 276 new cases in the seven days to July 17, giving 77.7 cases per 100,000 people, down on the previous week up to July 10, which had 429 cases and a previous infection rate 120.8 cases per 100,000 people.
Professor Dominic Harrison, Blackburn with Darwen Council’s director of public health, warned last week the area had two weeks to get the numbers down before lockdown measures are reversed.
The Lancashire town brought in extra restrictions last Tuesday and said the borough of 148,000 people was facing a “rising tide” of cases.
He said data showed household “clusters” of infections, suggesting one person was infecting others in the same household and this was mainly affecting the south Asian population.
Blackburn with Darwen borough has an Asian population of about 28%.
Local Asian councillors told the PA news agency their community should not be stigmatised and said large families, sometimes looking after elderly relatives, living in small terraced houses was the reason for the elevated infection rates.
The local council introduced new measures warning the public to reduce household visiting to one household plus two members from another household, to wear face masks in all public spaces and asked people not to hug or shake hands on greeting.
The local authority also increased inspections on small corner shops and ramped up testing with mobile testing units and targeted testing sites.
Infection rates are expected to rise as more testing is done, before they fall back again.
Prof Harrison ruled out a Leicester-type total lockdown, but said if the figures for Blackburn do not turn around by July 27, then they will go through the lockdown lifting measures, reversing them one by one.