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Soldiers on the streets of Bolton to tackle surge

Answering the call: Residents queue at a temporary vaccination centre at the Essa Academy in Bolton yesterday
Answering the call: Residents queue at a temporary vaccination centre at the Essa Academy in Bolton yesterday

SOLDIERS will be deployed on the streets of Britain’s worst Indian variant hotspots to hand out tests to slow its spread, Boris Johnson said yesterday.

Troops will help surge-testing efforts in Bolton - which is fighting a spike in infections almost ten times higher than the UK average - and neighbouring Blackburn. The Prime Minister said: ‘We will be throwing everything we have at this task.’

He said Colonel Russell Miller, Commander Army HQ North West, would ‘support local leaders in managing the local response on the ground’, adding: ‘For those living in Bolton there is now a new, greater risk from this variant. The Army will be out on the streets handing out tests.’

The move comes after Blackburn’s public health chief told of his ‘fury’ yesterday that the Government had blocked plans to give the vaccine to everyone over 18. Professor Dominic Harrison, the Lancashire town’s director of public health, said it had asked the NHS to ‘surge vaccinate’ but was turned down.

Yesterday the Prime Minister committed to an ‘acceleration’ of the vaccine rollout in Blackburn and Bolton, including longer opening at vaccination centres.

Appealing for residents to exercise caution as restrictions are eased and to get vaccinated when invited, Mr Johnson said it was ‘now more vital than ever that you play your part in stopping the spread’.

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Earlier Professor Harrison told BBC Radio Lancashire he could not understand why the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and the Department of Health and Social Care were ‘stopping local directors of public health from taking the action they know will halt this surge of the Indian variant’.

He said: ‘What we need is a very clear action plan - not threaten areas with lockdown if their rates go up with variants, but support them to take action.’

He accused ministers of ‘tying one hand behind my back’ and putting neighbouring areas at risk. ‘It seems entirely illogical we are not empowering local authority areas to do this,’ he added.

Figures out yesterday show the highest rate of infections is in Bolton, at 228.5 cases per 100,000 people in the past week.

Council leader David Greenhalgh has urged the Government to allow vaccines for all those aged 16 and over to head off a local lockdown.