Bolton’s coronavirus infection rate is more than ten times the national average, making it the UK’s worst Covid hotspot.
The town now has an average of 254.9 cases per 100,000 people after a surge in cases of the Indian coronavirus variant.
A temporary vaccination centre has been set up at one of Bolton’s secondary schools in a bid to tackle the spike in infections, the Manchester Evening News reports.
Council workers are also delivering coronavirus tests door-to-door, with plans to hand out up to 12,000 kits this weekend.
Teams in high-vis vests have been lugging black trolleys filled with kits from one house to the next.
It is all part of a huge operation aimed at tackling a surge in Covid-19 cases in the town.
It is not the first time Bolton has held been the UK’s worst Covid hotspot.
It consistently recorded the highest rate of new cases for several weeks last September – but the pace of the recent spike has taken many here by surprise.
It is thought to be driven by the Indian (B.1.617.2) strain of coronavirus and has predominantly affected areas to the south-west of the town centre.
Official data shows that the Lever Edge ward, in Great Lever, currently boasts the highest infection rate in England at just over 862 cases per 100,000 people.
A total of 76 new infections were recorded there in the week up to May 10 – an increase of 50 on the previous seven days.
It is no surprise, therefore, that most of the efforts to crackdown on the virus are targeted here.
Testing has been stepped up as the council aims to track the spread and ensure those who are infected are isolating.
Over the course of this weekend, council teams hope to distribute testing kits to between 10,000 and 12,000 homes.
One of those who has been handed one is Sheikh Shamsi, who lives in Calvert Road.
It will be the first time the 37-year-old security officer has ever been tested for coronavirus.
“It’s good that they are giving these out,” he said.
“We have to be careful.”
Mr Shamsi says he has booked in for his first dose of the vaccine later this month, but remains concerned by the rising number of cases in Bolton.
“I’m worried,” he said. “People don’t seem to care.
“Some of the people where I work think Covid is not here – like it is a rumour.
“I have followed the rules all along.”
Another of those who is worried about the rapid spread of the virus is Samuel Koomson.
“I don’t know how it is rising,” said the 50-year-old.
“Any time I go out to the supermarket, everybody is wearing masks and keeping their distance.”
Mr Koomson tested positive for the virus earlier this year, but says he never developed any symptoms.
He has since been invited to have the vaccine, but says he has no intention of doing so.
“It is not going to benefit me,” he said. “I am healthy.
“If I get the vaccine, I can still get the virus and have to social distance and wear masks. What is the sense?”
Those leading Bolton’s vaccination programme have expressed concern that areas with a lower uptake – Great Lever, Rumworth and Deane – are the same places where rates are rising fastest and cases of the Indian variant are being found.
Vaccine uptake in other areas of Bolton among over 70s is above 90 percent, but drops lower in Deane, Rumworth and Great Lever.
Asked why people in those parts of town seemed less inclined to get their jab, Dr Helen Wall, senior responsible officer for the vaccination programme in Bolton, said it was down in part to social factors such as deprivation, as well as the availability of the vaccine.
Shirley Taylor, 66, is one of those who has been fully vaccinated.
A nurse at a care home, she is proud of the fact she has worked right throughout the pandemic.
It has not been easy, and three of her colleagues have died of the virus.
She says she was looking forward to better days, so her frustration over the rising infection rate is clear.
Ms Taylor said: “Three weeks ago, we had one of the lowest rates in Bolton.
“It’s rife around here now.”
The highest infection rates in the town are being seen among younger people, with official data showing a huge spike in cases among schoolchildren.
The number of positive tests among children under the age of 14 has tripled in a week, figures released by Public Health England revealed.
The data shows that there has so far been no increase in infections among the over 60s, who are the most vulnerable to serious illness caused by Covid-19.
However, Ms Taylor fears the virus will start to spread further when restrictions are eased further on Monday.
Leaders initially linked the rise in cases in Bolton to international travel, particularly India and Pakistan, but there is now evidence of widespread community transmission, including in schools and workplaces.
“There is no way I am going near a pub at the minute,” she said. “You don’t know who you are sitting next to. I hope they get it under control. I just want life to go back to normal.”
“I’m worried about another local lockdown.
“It’s not our fault. We’ve been abiding by the regulations, going out only when we needed to and wearing masks.
“I wouldn’t let people into my house until I checked their temperature.”
As part of the efforts to control the infection rates, a mobile testing centre has been set up at Essa Academy in Great Lever.
The pop-up site attracted huge queues on Saturday as a total of 4,000 Pfizer jabs were made available to people who live, work or study in the BL3 or BL4 postcode areas.
Younger people cannot turn up and expect to get a Covid-19 vaccine at the site, despite earlier claims that “anyone” could queue for a jab.
A councillor deleted a tweet on Saturday in which he claimed “anyone” with a Bolton postcode and registered with a local GP could visit a vaccine bus and get jabbed.
Naveed Deeba, 31, was one of those queuing up to get vaccinated at the site this weekend.
“Everybody who can get the vaccine should be coming,” he said.
“I think it’s the only way out of Covid-19.
“I have two kids and I can’t really afford to fall sick.
“My wife has already had the jab. I was just not getting my turn through the NHS and I was told you could come here and get it done so here I am.
“I wouldn’t want to pass it on to my parents, my two kids, my wife just went through a pregnancy.
“I think the risk to them is bad and it’s better if I get immunised.”
At a press conference yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to send the Army in to support the mass testing efforts in Bolton.
Bolton Council’s director of public health, Dr Helen Lowey welcomed the extra support and urged residents to get tested.
She said: “It’s really important that people take the tests, even if they don’t have any symptoms.
“We want to stop the spread of the virus and contain it.
“What we are finding is that it is community transmission. What you tend to find is that the rates within schools or businesses, at the moment it is reflecting that.
“We know this particular variant is highly transmissible, so we really want to reduce the numbers.
“If anybody does have symptoms, please isolate and book a test.”