People aged 36 and 37 are to be offered the coronavirus vaccine from this week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced, as he appealed to people to get the jab.
In a Commons statement, Mr Hancock said there were now 2,323 confirmed cases of the Indian variant in the UK – of which 483 were in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen.
He said that cases had doubled in the past week – with 19 people in Bolton in hospital with the variant and eight in Blackburn – and that it was now the dominant strain in the area.
“The majority of people in hospital (in Bolton) with coronavirus were eligible for the jab but have chosen not yet to have the jab and have ended up in hospital, some of them in intensive care,” he said.
“Vaccines save lives. They protect you, they protect your loved ones and they will help us all get out of this pandemic.”
In response, Mr Hancock said a rapid response team had been “surged” into the area to try to halt the spread of the B1617.2 variant, amid concerns it is more transmissible than the current dominant Kent strain.
It included the deployment of more than 50 additional vaccinators and the opening of two new vaccination centres and six testing centres.
Over the weekend, the rate of vaccination in Bolton quadrupled, with 6,200 people getting the jab.
“This is the biggest surge of resources into any specific local area we have seen in the pandemic so far,” Mr Hancock said.
He said that the figures for those in hospital suggested that the new variant had not so far penetrated the older, vaccinated population.
He stressed, however, that the variant was not confined to Bolton and Blackburn, with 86 local authorities now reporting five or more confirmed cases.
The next biggest area of concern was Bedford, where testing was now being surged, he said.