A MAJOR boost to coronavirus testing and vaccination has been announced for East Lancashire by the government.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the ‘strengthened package of support’ was vital to stop the spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19 first identified in India across the county.

The new measures, including advice to minimise travel and wastewater testing, are already in place in Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley and Bolton.

Now the support - which includes aid from the military, supervised in-school testing, enhanced contact tracing and jabs for all over-25s - is to be extended to the rest of the Lancashire County Council area which includes Hyndburn, Ribble Valley, Pendle and Rossendale.

But the ‘enhanced response’ to the variant stops short of offering vaccinations to all young people aged 18 and over.

Residents of Lancashire and Greater Manchester have been asked to take the more reliable PCR tests as well as quicker lateral flow kits as part of the ‘surge testing’ drive to help track the spread of the variant using genomic sequencing.

Mr Hancock told the House of Commons: “We are providing a strengthened package of support based on what is working in Bolton to help Greater Manchester and Lancashire tackle the rise in the Delta variant.

“This includes Rapid Response Teams, putting in extra testing, military support and supervised in-school testing.

“It is vital that people come forward and get the jab as soon as they are eligible.”

Blackburn MP Kate Hollern called for more jabs and help for those who test positive.

She said: “Additional support for testing isn’t going to make a dent on the rising level of infections in Blackburn and beyond.

“What we need is surge-vaccinations in Lancashire and Manchester, where we have some of the highest infection rates in the country.

“Since May 26 I have been asking for additional vaccines for Blackburn, but our requests have been repeatedly rejected. The government also needs to set out its plans for additional financial support so its guidance to minimise travel in and out of Lancashire does not impact our businesses.”

Professor Dominic Harrison, Blackburn with Darwen Council’s public health director, said: “It makes absolute sense to have a national strategy to deal with new variants and high case rates.

“Most of the measures and support are already in place in Blackburn with Darwen.”

Hyndburn Council leader Cllr Miles Parkinson said: “This is the right thing to do – especially in terms of extra resources and surge testing.

“What we need to do now is increase the spread of vaccination and hopefully we will get help to do that.”

Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, Lancashire County Council’s director of public health, said: “Cases of Covid-19 are continuing to rise at a worrying pace in parts of Lancashire. While the East of the county has seen the highest volume of infection, we are seeing cases rise rapidly in other parts, including central Lancashire. Asymptomatic PCR testing will be opened up to everyone in Lancashire.”

Blackburn with Darwen Council chief executive Denise Park, chair of the Lancashire Resilience Forum, said: “We are getting enhanced support from government to ramp up testing and offer the vaccine in more convenient locations in coronavirus hotspots.”