A NEW government-backed ‘enhanced incident team’ is being set up in five East Lancashire boroughs under tight coronavirus restrictions in a bid to slow the spread of the disease.

The announcement was made by Health Minister Edward Argar as he refused to lift current tight rules on gatherings in force in Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle and Rossendale because the infection rate remained too high.

The new team headed by Public Health England’s North-West regional director Andrew Furber will bring extra cash and staff, improved testing and tracing capacity and better access to central data.

It will have a ‘laser-like focus’ on Pendle and Blackburn with Darwen, second and third behind Oldham in the latest national league table for coronavirus infections.

Mr Argar said the current restrictions would last until at least early next week but hinted they could be varied, eased or toughened then for some or all five boroughs.

The measures were announced two weeks ago to urgently tackle an increase in Covid-19 cases when Blackburn with Darwen had already been under local special measures for a fortnight.

But Lancashire Resilience Forum chair Angie Ridgwell warned: “I think there will be easing when it’s the right time but our numbers remain incredibly high so I think it’s highly unlikely in the next week that we would see any easing. Rossendale numbers, although small, were rising over the week.”

Restrictions on household gatherings are to continue in the five East Lancashire boroughs, Preston and Greater Manchester.

Mr Argar said: “We will keep all local restrictions under constant consideration, including ahead of any formal reviews.”

Sayyed Osman, Blackburn with Darwen Council’s adult services boss, said: “From our perspective, we’re starting to see numbers going in the right direction and cases have started to come down.

“However we know we have to see further meaningful reduction and it’s got to be sustained at lower levels.”

Shielding will continue for vulnerable individuals in Blackburn with Darwen where swimming pools, gyms and other leisure facilities will remain shut.

Lancashire County Council’s acting public health director Abdul Razaq said Pendle’s rate was 110.7 per 100,000, adding that in the last seven days there had been 92 positive cases concentrated in the Whitefield and Walverden wards.

Cllr David Whipp, deputy leader of Pendle Council said: “We are very pleased that further restrictions have not been brought into place this week.”