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Covid hotspot Bolton will keep two-visitor limit on care homes

Care homes in Covid hotspot Bolton have been told to hold fire on plans to permit more visitors next week amid surging cases of the Indian variant.

Schools in the Greater Manchester borough are also urging pupils and staff to keep wearing masks in classrooms next week, despite the measure due to be scrapped nationally on Monday. 

The next step in Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown says care home residents will be allowed five named visitors from May 17, up from the two currently permitted.

But councillors and public health leaders in Bolton have taken matters into their own hands after the local infection rate more than doubled in the last week week.

The Manchester town had the biggest spike in infections in the country in the seven days to May 9, PHE figures show, after cases leapt from 85.2 per 100,000 to 187.8.

PHE data suggests the Indian variant is now accounting for 25 per cent of cases across the North West.  

Local councillors have written to all care homes in the area asking them not to follow England’s roadmap. Schools have also been told to keep mandatory masks in place for now. 

Ministers are so far resisting calls to slow the roadmap anywhere, insisting the current vaccines roll-out is able to cope.

They suspect it is even more infectious than the already highly virulent Kent strain dominating in the UK. But are confident the vaccines will work just as well against it.

PHE Covid variant expert Professor Nick Loman said evidence suggested the impact the mutant strain would have on vaccine triggered immunity was ‘not particularly concerning’.

It comes as Britain today recorded another 2,193 cases of Covid, down a tenth on the same time last week, while another 17 deaths were recorded. For comparison, hundreds were dying from the virus every day in the darkest days of January. 

Care homes in Covid hotspot Bolton have been told to scrap plans to permit more visitors next week, reports suggest, amid spiralling cases of the Indian variant. (Stock) 

How Bolton's rising infection rate has been triggered by the Indian variant: Public Health England data shows the strain is making up almost 70 per cent of new cases in the Greater Manchester town after its prevalence doubled a month

How Bolton’s rising infection rate has been triggered by the Indian variant: Public Health England data shows the strain is making up almost 70 per cent of new cases in the Greater Manchester town after its prevalence doubled a month

Care home in Bolton have been told not to ease visiting limits on Monday. Pictured is surge testing taking place in the Greater Manchester Bolton

Care home in Bolton have been told not to ease visiting limits on Monday. Pictured is surge testing taking place in the Greater Manchester Bolton

EXPERTS SOUND ALARM OVER INDIAN VARIANT 

The June end of lockdown will be ‘in doubt’ if the Indian Covid variant sees a surge in serious illness, a top medical expert warned today, threatening to send the Government’s unlocking plans into chaos.

Epidemiologist Professor Paul Hunter said that the nation faces an anxious wait to see how serious the outbreaks of the highly contagious strain are and how many people end up in hospital.

It came as ministers revealed teenagers could be offered jabs as authorities battle to bring the outbreaks under control.

Surge testing has already begun in 15 towns including Bolton and Formby and ministers last night approved plans aimed at slowing the spread of the imported strain of Covid-19, after cases doubled in a week.

But Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said that England’s inoculation roll-out would ‘flex’ to tackle the outbreak and the roadmap would continue as planned.

He insisted that the jab could control the impact of the virus strain which has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths in India. Scientists are trying to work out if it is more infectious than previous strains.

Modelling by the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies warned that if it proves to be a lot more transmissible than the currently dominant Kent version then it could result in a third wave deadlier than the second.

No10’s scientists said it could trigger up to 20,000 hospital admissions per day in a worst-case scenario. January’s peak, which nearly crippled the NHS, was around 3,800 a day in England.

A Warwick University modelling team cautioned that if it was 40 per cent more transmissible the next surge could be worse than the second wave, with up to 6,000 daily admissions, and a 50 per cent increase could lead to 10,000 per day.  

Bolton councillor Andy Morgan, who also runs a care home, told the Guardian the council had written to its care homes to ask them not to follow the roadmap.

‘The Government have said care homes can increase visits to five named people from Monday,’ he said.

‘But we in Bolton have given guidance to our care homes saying we don’t think they should implement that guidance and should stick to two named people for at least the next two weeks until we know what’s going on with the variants.’

There are 35 care homes for older adults in Bolton, according to the council’s website, with space for more than 1,000 people.

All residents have been offered at least one dose of the Covid vaccine, which early studies suggest protects against the Indian variant.

The requested ban on visits will lead to more heartbreak for many families, who have been unable to see much loved relatives for a year due to Covid restrictions. 

Labour MP for Bolton South East, Yasmin Qureshi, told the newspaper she was against the clampdown on care homes.

‘I don’t want any more imposition, but I think I would suggest that people voluntarily exercise their own judgement,’ she said. 

Lockdown-easing plans on May 17 will also see residents allowed to go for medical appointments, day centres, a workplace and educational settings without needing to self-isolate.

Minister for care, Helen Whately, said announcing the easing: ‘Thanks to the phenomenal success of the vaccine roll out and a reduction in cases across the country, I am pleased we can now take another step towards getting back to normal.’

Several schools in Bolton have already asked pupils and staff to keep wearing face masks, Bolton’s assistant director of public health, Lynn Donkin, told Manchester Evening News.

‘We’ve been talking to a number of our schools and a number of them have reached out to us actually and they’ve said they want to continue with face coverings,’ she said.

‘We absolutely support them in that approach.’

Bury council has also sent letters to its schools asking them to keep using face masks until further notice.

Its message read: ‘Following discussions at the Health Protection Board and with Bury’s local director of public health, Bury Council is asking schools to retain the use of face coverings, as per current arrangements, until further notice.’

PHE data revealed yesterday that Bolton had the biggest spike in infections in the country last week, after cases leapt from 85.2 to 187.8 per 100,000 residents. This was also the highest infection rate in England.

Sanger Institute data showed the Indian variant is now dominant in Bolton, with fears it may be behind the spiralling case rates.

Surge testing has already begun in 15 towns including Bolton and Formby and ministers last night approved plans aimed at slowing the spread of the imported strain of Covid.

Ten million over-50s are set to be offered their second doses earlier, because they are at higher risk from the virus.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi confirmed that England’s roll-out would ‘flex’ to tackle emerging outbreaks of the virus and to ensure the roadmap continues as planned.

He insisted that the jab could control the impact of the virus strain which has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths in India.

Step 4, involving the almost complete end to Covid restrictions, is due to take place on June 21 if there are no setbacks.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has called for all over-16s in the area to be offered Covid vaccines as soon as possible.

Blackburn and Darwen council also pushed forward plans to get vaccines to over-18s yesterday. But they were derailed by Government ministers, who said the area had to stick to the JCVI-approved age-based roll-out.

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