Oldham, Pendle and Blackburn have escaped full local lockdowns and strict new social distancing measures have been introduced instead following a spike in coronavirus cases.
Different households will no longer be able to meet with each other in the three areas in any setting, including in parks and beer gardens – while extra restrictions which were in force in Wigan, Darwen and Rossendale have been removed.
Birmingham has also been added to this week’s watch list as an ‘Area of Enhanced Support’, meaning it will receive extra resources for additional testing and contact tracing, and Northampton becomes an ‘Area of Intervention’, placing it in the highest risk category and requiring the most support.
The leader of Oldham council, Councillor Sean Fielding, said public transport would be deemed for “absolutely essential use only” and the number of people allowed to attend weddings and funerals would be reduced in the town.
It has not yet been made clear when the new restrictions will be introduced.
The action was agreed with local leaders by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, NHS Test and Trace, the Joint Biosecurity Centre and Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Chris Whitty.
Oldham currently has the highest two-week COVID-19 case rate across England, Scotland and Wales – followed by Northampton and Blackburn and Darwen.
However, targeted testing and other measures has resulted in a decline in the rate of infections in the town.
A total of 187 new COVID-19 cases were recorded in Oldham in the seven days to August 17 – the equivalent of 78.9 per 100,000 people, down from 111.8 in the seven days to August 10 – according Public Health England data published yesterday.
“We have made a clear case to government that a local lockdown with the closure of businesses would not be the right solution to tackle the problems we are facing in Oldham,” said Mr Fielding.
“Our alternative was an alternative which put forward some measures that would reduce social mixing and increase the targeting of testing and enforcement of testing in areas where it is needed most.”
He added: “I know that this is a difficult time but we need to work together and pull together now more than ever to bring down our coronavirus cases and avoid any future threat of local lockdown or further national lockdown.
“I hope that I can rely on the residents of Oldham to support us and together we can come through this crisis.”
Several areas across Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, East Lancashire and Leicester have already faced tougher restrictions for more than two weeks to try and contain the spread of coronavirus.
Ministers handed powers to councils to declare local lockdowns – but can still impose them if deemed necessary.
Northampton is almost level with Oldham on 78.4 cases per 100,000 people, a slight increase from 74.4, with 176 new cases.
There were 101 new cases recorded during the same week in Blackburn with Darwen, where the rate has fallen from 81.5 to 67.5.
In Leicester the rate continues to drop, down from 70.3 to 52.5, with 186 new cases.
Other areas recording notable week-on-week jumps include Manchester (up from 38.5 to 49.0, with 271 new cases), Bury (up from 22.0 to 33.0, with 63 new cases) and Stoke-on-Trent (up from 15.6 to 26.1, with 67 new cases).