Two Lancashire towns teetering on the edge of local lockdown have announced new emergency measures to tackle coronavirus outbreaks.
Blackburn with Darwen Council told residents only two people can now visit another person at home and face coverings should be worn in public with immediate effect.
It has also urged anyone to get tested for COVID-19 – even if they have no symptoms.
Elsewhere in England, face coverings are still optional in some public places like shops – although they will become mandatory on Friday 24 July – and groups of six can meet outside at a friend’s home in their garden.
Blackburn had 47 cases of the virus per 100,000 people in the week up to 11 July, an increase from 31.6 cases per 100,000 the previous week.
It is third on the list of highest weekly rates, behind Leicester, which has a rate of 118.2 cases per 100,000 and is subject to a local lockdown, and nearby Pendle, with a rate of 76.6.
Dominic Harrison, the Lancashire council’s director of public health, called for people only to bump elbows with anyone outside of their immediate family, instead of shaking hands or hugging.
And he said if infection rates continue to rise, further restrictions may be reimposed.
“These steps will help and we are appealing to everyone in Blackburn with Darwen to follow them to protect themselves and their loved ones,” Mr Harrison told residents on Tuesday.
“If we don’t, a local lockdown, like in Leicester, becomes a very real possibility.
“The council is working with the NHS and the wider community on this, it’s up to us all to help each other stick to the advice that’s been given.
“We can only avoid further lockdown measures if we work together.”
The public spaces that people are now being told to wear masks in include workplaces, libraries, museums, health centres and hair and beauty salons.
Council leader Mohammed Khan told Sky News he has “no intention” yet of fully locking down the two towns.
But if “worst comes to worst”, he explained, “we are looking at the smart way of locking down areas”, using postcode data to show which have the “most problem”.
“At this stage, we are not anywhere near to Leicester,” he said. “We are putting all these measures in place to make sure we are not going to get to that place.”
“We are confident we will do everything possible in the next 10-15 days to control the whole thing.”
His message to residents was: “You’ve done a great job in the past, but please: This is going to be something serious if you’re not going to take care of you and your loved one.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at the start of July as he launched the government’s “enjoy summer safely” campaign that “we think we’re in good shape but my message is let’s not blow it”.
However, a group of scientists and academics have warned a second wave of coronavirus could hit the UK even worse than the first this coming winter – killing 120,000 people.
Their report, commissioned by the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, said that was the “reasonable worst-case scenario”.