A NEW government-backed enhanced incident team is being set up in five East Lancashire boroughs under tight coronavirus restrictions in a bid to cut the infection rate.

Health Minister Edward Argar said current tight rules on gatherings would remain in force in Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle and Rossendale until at least early next week.

But he hinted they could be lifted or eased then for some or all five boroughs.

The measures were announced two weeks ago to urgently tackle an increase in COVID-19 cases in these areas.

Blackburn with Darwen had already been under local special measures.

The latest evidence does not show a decrease in the number of cases per 100,000 people in the area, and the Health Secretary Matt Hancock in collaboration with local leaders, has agreed that the rules must remain in place at present.

Mr Argar said the latest data shows a continued rise in cases in Oldham and Pendle while numbers remain high in Blackburn with Darwen.

He revealed that local leaders are now setting up an enhanced incident team in the three boroughs to try and bring infection rates under control, with support offered from the government.

Progress will be assessed throughout the weekend and early next week.

Restrictions on household gatherings are to continue in the five boroughs, Preston, Greater Manchester, Leicester and in parts of West Yorkshire'

Casinos, skating rinks, bowling alleys, exhibition halls, conference centres and indoor play areas will not be permitted to open in these areas.

Mr Argar said: “I’d like to thank everyone in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, East Lancashire and Leicester for their continued patience in following these vital rules put in place to tackle the spread of the disease – I know it hasn’t been easy.

“We will review the measures again next week as part of our ongoing surveillance and monitoring of the latest data.

“It is essential we all remain vigilant, and I urge everyone in these areas to continue to follow the rules - wash your hands regularly, follow social distancing, get yourself a free test as soon as you get any symptoms, and isolate if NHS Test and Trace tells you to.

"We will keep all local restrictions under constant consideration, including ahead of any formal reviews."

He said that as part of ensuring a proportionate yet robust response to the virus, where possible the government will remove individual areas from these measures while maintaining or even strengthening measures in others as necessary.