NEW guidance has been released by the Government today to fight the spread of the Indian variant of coronavirus ­— with most of Lancashire being declared an ‘enhanced response area'.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock made a brief announcement on the subject in the House of Commons just before 12.30pm, urging people in the county to take part in regular testing.   

It follows the introduction of asymptomatic PCR testing in parts of East Lancashire late last month.

The Lancashire Telegraph understands that the status will be conferred on the Lancashire County Council and Blackburn with Darwen Council areas – although it is not currently thought to include Blackpool. 

The move was last week requested by the county council’s director of public health, Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi.

Support will be offered to drive vaccine uptake in cohorts which are already eligible – as of today, that is the over-25s,  except where younger people fall into another eligibility category such as particular vulnerability to Covid or living within someone at heightened risk from the virus.

The NHS in Lancashire and South Cumbria has clarified to the LDRS that over-18s in the county can receive their first jab only if they fall into an eligible group – including on the vaccine bus touring East Lancashire.

The LDRS has seen details sent to local authority leaders this morning of what enhanced area status entails.  There will be no ban on travel between different corners of the county, but Lancashire residents will be advised to “minimise travel in and out of affected areas” under new guidance.

The package for enhanced area status will also provide:

***A rapid response team deployed to support local authorities to plan and coordinate their ground campaign and the ability to request Military Aid to the Civil Aviation Authority.

***Drive vaccine uptake across eligible cohorts by upweighting resources for operational delivery of the vaccine programme.

***Local authorities can approach their local police force, Health and Safety Executive and other enforcement agencies to seek support in compliance and enforcement as necessary.

***Specialist communications support to support increased awareness and focused engagement with disadvantaged groups.

***Supervised in-school testing.

***Wastewater testing samples.

***Advising people in these areas to take particular caution when meeting others outside of their household  or support bubble and to minimise travel in and out of affected areas.

***Allow local directors of public health to recommend additional control measures in educational settings.

***Supporting spot checks to ensure workplaces are Covid safe.

READ: Live updates as people across Lancashire urged to minimise travel in Covid fight

Addressing MPs in the Commons, Matt Hancock said:  “I can tell the House that today, working with local authorities, we are providing a strengthened package of support based on what’s working in Bolton, to help Greater Manchester and Lancashire tackle the rise in the Delta variant that we’re seeing there.

“This includes rapid response teams, putting in extra testing, military support and supervised in school testing. I want to encourage everyone in Manchester and Lancashire to get the tests on offer.

“We know that this approach can work, we’ve seen it work in south London and in Bolton in stopping a rise in the number of cases.

“This is the next stage of tackling the pandemic in Manchester and in Lancashire, and of course it’s vital that people in these areas – as everywhere else – come forward and get the jab as soon as they’re eligible because that is our way out of this pandemic together.”