THE Government have said they are not ruling out the possibility of locking down individual towns and boroughs as a new coronavirus variant spreads through the North West.

Over concerns about the rising number of cases of the Indian variant of Covid-19 cases in Bolton and Blackburn, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock has told the BBC he cannot rule out regional lockdowns.

He said: “We rule nothing out. We have all seen last year what might be necessary but at the moment our goal is to tackle this through making sure that everyone who tests positive gets enhanced contact tracing and of course the vaccine programme is given a high level of protection across the board.”

Surge testing has been under way in parts of Bolton since May 7, after Public Health England (PHE) confirmed the town is one of the main locations for cases of the India variant of Covid-19, which last week was reclassified as a variant of concern.

Cases of the India variant in England had increased from 202 to 520 as of May 7, PHE said, with almost half related to travel or contact with a traveller.

The majority of the cases are concentrated in two areas: north-west England, predominantly Bolton, and London.

Asked this morning if local lockdowns were possible, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “There are a range of things we could do, we want to make sure we grip it.

“Obviously there’s surge testing, there’s surge tracing.”

He added: “If we have to do other things, then of course the public would want us to rule nothing out. We have always been clear we would be led by the data.

“At the moment, I can see nothing that dissuades me from thinking we will be able to go ahead on Monday and indeed on June 21, everywhere, but there may be things we have to do locally and we will not hesitate to do them if that is the advice we get.”

Asked about concerns over the Indian variant circulating in the UK, the Prime Minister said: “It is a variant of concern, we are anxious about it.”

Speaking at a primary school in Ferryhill, County Durham, Boris Johnson said: “At the moment there is a very wide range of scientific opinion about what could happen.

“We want to make sure we take all the prudential, cautious steps now that we could take, so there are meetings going on today to consider exactly what we need to do.

“There is a range of things we could do, we are ruling nothing out.”