Which areas of England could go into local lockdown? Places with worst Indian variant case rates in country

Bolton, Sefton, Blackburn and Bedford currently have the highest number of B.1.617.2 cases in England

There are fears that the Indian variant will lead to local lockdowns in the worst-affected areas of England (Getty Images)

The spread of the Indian Covid variant in England is threatening to derail the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

Thought to be more transmissible, scientists have predicted that the strain - known as B.1.617.2 - will eventually become the dominant variant in the country.

Sign up to our NationalWorld Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It was detected in 127 local authorities in England in the week ending 8 May, according to data from the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

That was a 44% increase on the week before, suggesting that the “variant of concern” is rapidly making its way through the population.

And there are fears that the variant will lead to local lockdowns in the worst-affected areas.

Local lockdowns ‘can’t be ruled out’

On Tuesday (18 May), Environment Secretary George Eustice told Times Radio that localised restrictions can’t be ruled out if there is a surge in coronavirus infections in some parts of England.

“If we do have a deterioration in some of these areas, then of course we can’t rule out that we would put in place certain local lockdowns,” he said.

“At the moment we are doing a lot of intensive surveillance in those areas, with surge testing to identify it and deal with it.”

Ministers are reportedly drawing up contingency plans to reintroduce local lockdowns - similar to the Tier 4 restrictions that came into force last year - to halt the spread of the variant.

In areas with a high prevalence of the Indian strain, people would be advised to stay at home, while non-essential shops and hospitality venues would close, The Times reported on Monday (17 May).

And Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the spread of B.1.617.2 could delay the much-anticipated final step out of lockdown on 21 June, placing hopes of the remaining restrictions being scrapped in jeopardy.

So which areas of England could be the first to enter local lockdowns?

Where has the highest number of Indian variant cases in England?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Monday (17 May) that 2,323 cases of the Indian variant had been identified in the UK.

But some areas are worse-affected by the potentially more transmissible strain than others.

That is the case for a few areas in the north west of England, which have been identified as hotspots for the variant.

In Bolton, Greater Mancester, cases of B.1.617.2 had more than doubled compared with the week ending 1 May, the Wellcome Sanger Institute data shows.

And in Sefton, Merseyside, the number of new cases of the variant had increased by 74% to 99.

Also in the north west, in Blackburn, cases went up by 67%, according to the data.

Public health experts have said the Indian variant is now the dominant strain of coronavirus in the area, as well as in Bolton.

Mr Hancock told the Commons on Monday that cases in the two places had doubled over the past week, affecting all age groups.

Meanwhile, further south, Bedford saw cases rise by 39%, resulting in “surge testing” being implemented there.

These four areas currently have the highest number of B.1.617.2 cases in England.

Experts are concerned that the variant could cause a surge in cases and hospitalisations if no further Covid restrictions are put in place.

And government advisory body Sage believes transmissibility could be 50% higher than the Kent variant that led to the third nationwide lockdown in January.

However, scientists believe vaccines are still effective against B.1.617.2 and government data shows that infections are lower in the over 60s, which is the demographic more likely to have received two vaccine doses.