DARWEN and Rossendale were today taken out of tough coronavirus restrictions as parts of Blackburn and Pendle were placed under an even tougher regime.

The announcement was made after careful ward by ward analysis of infection rates across East Lancashire.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock eased curbs in nine wards from Blackburn with Darwen, due to take effect from 12.01am on Wednesday August 26, but restrictions he imposed suddenly on July 30 were ramped up in eight others, effective from 12.01am on Sunday.

The whole of Rossendale was taken out of the regulations governing household gatherings along with Darwen and parts of Blackburn.

The residents in the eight Blackburn wards under tougher rules will now be unable to meet with people outside their own household in any circumstances in a near total new lockdown.

Seven wards in Pendle covering Nelson and Brierfield were also moved under the same tough new regime. Restrictions remain unchanged in Hyndburn, Burnley.

The eight wards in central and north Blackburn affected by the new restrictions are: Audley and Queens Park; Bastwell and Daisyfield; Billinge and Beardwood; Blackburn Central; Little Harwood and Whitebirk; Roe Lee; Shear Brow and Corporation Park; and Wensley Fold.

The nine wards removed from local special measures where residents should now follow national guidance are Blackburn South and Lower Darwen, Blackburn South East, Darwen East, Darwen South, Darwen West, Ewood, Livesey with Pleasington, Mill Hill and Moorgate, and West Pennine.

The Pendle wards affected are Bradley, Clover Hill, Walverden, Whitefield, Marsden, Southfield and Brierfield.

Schools will still open and residents of the areas affected by the tighter restrictions will still be able to go to work including at Nelson Lomeshaye Industrial Estate.

The changes are the first time the blanket constraints on the five East Lancashire boroughs, Greater Manchester and part of West Yorkshire have been varied.

Mr Hancock said: “To prevent a second peak and keep Covid-19 under control, we need robust, targeted intervention where we see a spike in cases. Our approach is to make the action we take as targeted as possible.”

Lancashire County Council’s director of public health Dr Sakthi Karunanithi said the measures were ’proportionate and precise’ with a clear message of 'Don’t mix or we'll be in a fix.’ Cllr Mohammed Khan, leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, said: “We know that our residents have been making huge sacrifices and that businesses are struggling. We desperately needed to prevent the threat of a full, borough-wide lockdown as this would have been devastating.

“We will continue with our important work fighting this infection at a really local level – focusing our resources and efforts on our residents who need it most.”

Rossendale and Darwen MP Jake Berry said: “I am pleased the infection rate in Darwen and Rossendale has dropped so that the restrictions can be eased.”

Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson said: “This is the right and proportionate response.

“No-one wants restrictions but no-one wants a full second lockdown. It is right that these new restrictions have been done at a very local levels based on the science.”

But Cllr Mohammed Iqbal, leader of Pendle Council, said: “We are not signed up to extra Government restrictions. This is not what Pendle needs right now.

“In Pendle the number of Covid-19 cases has been coming down and that’s despite the fact that we are doing more testing than other areas in the North West.

“We need to see the results of all our efforts before the Government considers hitting Pendle with harsher restrictions.”

Cllr Alyson Barnes, leader of Rossendale Council said: “I am delighted with the lifting of restrictions in Rossendale and I know local residents and businesses will be too.”

Wigan has also been taken out of the restricted area while rules in Oldham were tightened.

Angie Ridgwell, chair of the Lancashire Resilience Forum, which is leading the local response to coronavirus, said: “These measures are to avoid a more severe economic lockdown."

"At this stage, we do not believe that such a blunt instrument would be effective, but be in no doubt that if infections rates do not go down, it is likely that more stringent measures will be brought in.”

Today’s announcement starts a process of focusing restrictions on a more local level.

Ahead on next week’s review meeting on Thursday chaired by Mr Hancock local authorities and MPs make recommendations for the wards in their area, those where the currently household restrictions should be lifted and those where they should be kept.