‘I’m gutted but it’s for our safety’: Blackburn faces up to further Covid restrictions

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Nestled in the heart of Blackburn town centre, between the station and the market, is Blackburn Cathedral, built in 1826 and designed by the architect John Palmer. Its grounds are one of the more picturesque locations to get a Covid vaccine.

While the feeling on Monday was largely celebratory – many were here for their long-awaited second dose – the news that the lifting of lockdown in England has been delayed dampened the mood for some.

A total of 130 cases were confirmed by Public Health England in Blackburn with Darwen on Sunday and it remains the worst-affected area in England.

“You can’t fault the community but it isn’t nice to be top of the league,” said Ryan Garry, 60. “I accept the government’s decision but it’s [the advice] been changing constantly since day one.

“It’s got a lot to do with demographics. Lots of multigenerational households and once one of the kids brings it back from school it just goes boom from there.”

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Garry said he was not surprised by the announcement that lockdown would be extended. “If Boris went for it on the 21st and it goes wrong, he’s toast. It’s a race and the government have bought themselves another month to try and get 10 million more people vaccinated.”

Father Gerard Barry, 56, a Catholic priest, combines his duties at St Joseph’s church in Audley Range with being a chaplain at the Royal Blackburn hospital.

“It was horrible being with people at the end of their lives. You’d sit with people who were looking better one day that would be dead the next,” Barry said. “Blackburn’s never had the lowest numbers, so it’s sad to see people here not taking the restrictions seriously. In hospital we see the numbers starting to rise again and the virus is affecting younger and younger people.”

He said he had already had to postpone three weddings and a baptism in recent weeks as the spread of the Delta variant has forced more people to self-isolate. However, he was clear that the priority is people’s health: “It’s better to be safe than sorry, and it’s easier to extend restrictions than to open up and have to lock down again … I just wish the government briefings were clearer so we don’t have a repeat of that ridiculous situation with the travel advice a few weeks ago.”

People leaving the vaccination centre at Blackburn Cathedral
People leaving the vaccination centre at Blackburn Cathedral, where staff were encouraged that those receiving the jab were representative of the city’s ethnic diversity. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Blackburn Cathedral vaccination centre is only offering vaccines to people with an appointment, but staff were encouraged by the volume of take-up and the fact that the smiling faces leaving the big white tent have been representative of Blackburn’s diversity, both in terms of age and ethnicity.

According to 2011 census data, Blackburn’s population is 37.5% Asian, compared with 6.2% across the north-west region.

“It’s been a scary few weeks in Blackburn because we’re at the centre,” said Andelieb Tufail, 42. She had mixed feelings about the news that “freedom day” would have to wait for another four weeks at least.

“I’m gutted but it’s for our safety even if that means not going out … The impact on my mental health has been huge, I’ve been depressed not knowing how my family are getting on and Eid last month was very disrupted. Hopefully we’ll be able to celebrate Eid al-Adha together but it doesn’t look like it.”

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Mollie Heap, 18, a nursery practitionerm booked her appointment for her second dose after she was invited to do so by her GP. “It’s only been eight weeks since my first but I think it’s to do with the rising rates in Lancashire. I just want it to be over now. Covid has been exhausting mentally and physically.”

Ash Patel, a 32-year-old architect from nearby Preston, said: “I’m not scared since I’ve had my second dose of the vaccine, but I can’t deny that it affects me mentally.”

While the news that restrictions are to be extended has raised concerns that a local lockdown is imminent, Patel said he was sanguine about the prospect, in part because he has lost relatives to the virus in both the UK and India.

“When they were doing local lockdowns in Lancashire I thought it wasn’t fair, but with this new variant there’s been a spike so I feel it might have to be done. At the end of the day you don’t really have a choice.”

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