Swindon was doing battle with an invisible enemy, warning the town’s public health chief.

Speaking as Swindon became the first place in the south west to be placed on the government’s coronavirus watch list yesterday, borough council director of public health Steve Maddern issued a stark warning.

“We’re trying to win a war against an enemy we can’t see and that’s why it’s really important people maintain the measures that they do,” he told reporters.

The town has seen a spike in its coronavirus cases, with 100 confirmed cases since Friday, July 31 alone. 974 people in the town have now tested positive.

A lot of that is down to what health officials describe as a mini-outbreak at XPO Logistics’ site in Penzance Drive, which handles distribution for Iceland supermarkets. Almost 80 staff members at the 750-worker site have tested positive for the virus.

And yesterday, Tesco announced that a “small number” of staff at its Ocotal Way superstore had contracted the virus and were self-isolating.

Despite a rising case rate that has seen Swindon flagged as an area of concern, Mr Maddern was adamant that the town wouldn’t follow places like Preston and Manchester that have seen more stringent lockdown measures reintroduced.

“Are we heading towards local restrictions? The answer is no. Are we heading towards local lockdown? The answer is no,” he said.

And as businesses had put in place social distancing measures, the issue was likely to be in what people were doing outside of work.

He said: “I think as we relax the measures, I think people are relaxing.

“Although we do have those higher rates, I know the numbers are still relatively small in comparison. When you would be talking to people on the street not everybody will know someone who’s had covid, not everyone will know someone who has died from covid.

“I think that gives an element of complacency and Swindon residents shouldn’t be complacent.”

To date, 974 people have tested positive for the virus in Swindon including 100 since Friday, July 31. Official figures show there have been the equivalent of 438.4 cases per 100,000 people – up from 394 cases per 100,000 at the end of last week. 118 people have lost their lives to the virus, according to the Department of Health’s statistics.

On Friday, the government’s SAGE committee made up of top scientific advisers, put the south west’s R rate – essentially the number of other people a person with coronavirus infects – joint top at 0.8-1.1. A number above one means every person with the virus infects one or more people.

Urging people to take precautionary measures, Mr Maddern said: “Nothing can stop it. The thing with covid is we’re battling a war against something that we can’t actually see.

“With the XPO cases we will never actually know who that first case was that allowed it to then impact on that broader workforce.

“The key here is very much focusing on prevention.”