LANCASHIRE’S public health director has urged residents not to ‘lose all the gains we’ve made in the last few months’ over the government’s Five Days of Christmas.

Dr Sakthi Karunanithi’s plea for people to take care over coronavirus during the festive season relaxation of Covid-19 rules has been echoed by the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Rev Philip North.

While East Lancashire’s political leaders have welcomed the new guidance on social gatherings and travel, they said ignoring the risk of virus spread could cause a spike in infections leading to a tough New Year lockdown.

Dr Karunanithi said: “It’s important as Christmas approaches that we don’t lose all the gains we’ve made in the last few months. What we do before and during the Christmas season matters most, to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

“Let’s make smart choices about who we meet and keep everyone safe.

“The government has announced that there will be a relaxation of the measures for Christmas, so that people can spend some time with friends and family.

"It’s still vital that we all follow the guidance to protect the people we care about.”

His Blackburn with Darwen counterpart, Professor Dominic Harrison, echoes his concerns saying: “This will generate a significant additional risk for Pennine Lancashire.”

The Rt Rev North, who chairs the Blackburn Diocese Church of England Coronavirus Task Group, said: “I give a cautious welcome to the plans but I would strongly urge people to be careful in how and when they gather and with whom. Let’s all apply some good old-fashioned common sense over Christmas to avoid further lockdowns if possible.

“Preparations are being made across the county to provide the opportunity for as many as possible to worship over Christmas itself.”

Cllr Mohammed Khan, leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, said: “It is the festive season and it is good people will be able to meet up but they need to follow the coronavirus safety rules and restrictions.

"People should go to the mosque or church but should behave responsibly or there could be serious consequences in the New Year. Covid has not gone away.”

Hyndburn Conservative MP Sara Britcliffe said: “I think this relaxation will be welcome by residents of East Lancashire who have been under restrictions for a longer period than most.

“I do think that people will have to be very careful during this period. If they do not follow the guidelines there would be risk of a spike in coronavirus infections in the New Year with tougher restrictions as a result.”

Ribble Valley Borough Council leader Stephen Atkinson said: “The government is not asking people to visit their relatives at Christmas, but just making it possible for them to do so in a careful manner.”

Cllr Miles Parkinson, leader of Hyndburn Council, said: “The relaxation of rules is welcome. At this time people do need some hope but it is very important that they continue to observe Covid-safety rules. We have a long winter ahead.”

Burnley Council leader Cllr Mark Townsend said: “I think there are inherent dangers in what the government is proposing for Christmas. It is good that families can get together but I call on people to behave responsibly.”