BARROW and Furness has been added to a national watchlist for areas experiencing some of the highest rates of Covid-19 infections in the UK.

The borough was added to the expanding ‘areas of concern’ list yesterday morning, as confirmed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Later in the day, public health advice which previously applied to Barrow alone was extended to the rest of Cumbria after a doubling of the new Covid-19 cases across the county over the past week.

By law, people in England must not meet indoors or outdoors in groups of more than six people.

Cumbrians are now being strongly advised that groups of six should include people from no more than two households. At the moment, the instructions remain advisory.

In other parts of the country, however, government restrictions have been converted into enforceable legislation.

Furness is currently reporting infection levels considerably higher than those of neighbouring Cumbrian districts. Its per capita rate of cases is just below 100.

By contrast, the national average is 28 cases per 100,000 residents. Barrow borough is the only local authority area within the county to be included in the national watchlist along with several areas across the country including towns in neighbouring Lancashire.

Eden had previously been identified as an ‘area of concern’ earlier this year. But it was taken off the list at the beginning of summer, as the UK began to exit the springtime lockdown.

Cumbria’s public health director, Colin Cox, has confirmed the announcement will not translate directly into any fresh restrictions for Furness residents.

“For now, this basically just means Public Health England and the Joint Biosecurity Centre will be keeping a much closer eye on Barrow going forward,” he said.

Following a meeting of the county’s Health Protection Board yesterday, Mr Cox said: “The number of Covid-19 cases in the county has doubled in a week and hospitalisations are increasing.

“But we are not yet in the position of other areas in the North West and we have a small window of opportunity to act to slow the spread, protect our communities and local economy, and avoid becoming the next area in local lockdown. We know that limiting contact between households can reduce transmission. The ‘two-households’ advice we’re issuing today doesn’t have the force of law behind it, but we’re calling on everyone living in Cumbria to take it seriously and act accordingly."