WARRINGTON’S director of public health has warned all residents to stay safe amid the growing concern of a new strain of coronavirus.

A small number of Covid-19 cases of the b.1.617 variant, which was first identified in India, have been discovered across the north west region.

Local public health teams are working closely with Public Health England and other partners to provide all the knowledge and expertise required to identify and contain the variant.

But residents are being urged to play their part by keeping safe and do what they can to help reduce transmission as restrictions are eased.

Thara Raj, Warrington's director of public health, said: “It is good to see us move to the next step of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown from today.

“However, an increase in detection of the b.1.617 variant shows that Covid has not gone away.

“This variant is thought to be more transmissible, but there is currently no evidence to suggest it affects people more seriously or is resistant to the vaccines currently being rolled out across the UK.

Warrington Guardian: Thara Raj, Warrington's director of public healthThara Raj, Warrington's director of public health

“Vaccination, testing and everyone following the rules on social distancing, wearing face coverings and handwashing are all still key to preventing the spread of the virus.

“People should also take care when visiting friends and family indoors when it is permitted from this week.”

Ian Ashworth, chair of the Cheshire and Merseyside Directors of Public Health Board, added: “We have now seen Cheshire and Merseyside reach over two million vaccinations, which is a great achievement.

“However, we should not take the successful roll out of the vaccination programme as permission to stop following the rules, as we still have people left to vaccinate.

“It could take just a few outbreaks across a few communities to derail the fantastic progress we have made so far.

“It is vital that people go along to get their first and second vaccination jabs when they are offered them.

“You can now get the Covid-19 vaccine if you are aged 38 or over, or if your 38th birthday is between now and 1 July.”

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To book, contact your GP practice, visit the national booking service at nhs.uk/covid-vaccination or call 119.

Rapid symptom-free testing is available to all residents in Warrington, whether they have been vaccinated or not, to help stop the spread of the virus.

Lateral flow tests are available online for collection from participating pharmacies or at any of the six testing sites across the borough.

Anyone who gets a positive result from a rapid symptom-free test can book a confirmatory NHS PCR test by visiting nhs.uk/coronavirus or by calling 119.

Directors are also keen to stress how important it is for anyone with coronavirus symptoms, including a new persistent cough, a high temperature or a loss of sense of taste or smell, to self-isolate immediately and book an NHS PCR test by calling 119 or visiting nhs.uk/coronavirus

For those who need support during this difficult time, visit kindtoyourmind.org which has details of 24/7 crisis helplines and resources to help with mental wellbeing.