MINISTERS have been told to stop ‘dithering’ over moving East Lancashire into the top category of coronavirus restrictions as talks continued on the details of a support package for businesses and individuals affected by a tougher regime.

Negotiations were due to restart tomorrow after they stalled over the cash aid on offer if all or part of the county and Greater Manchester were upgraded from Covid Alert Level Two ‘High’ to tier three ‘Very High’.

This would close pubs, bars and gyms and ban households meeting in public places and private gardens as well as indoors.

Blackburn Labour MP Kate Hollern condemned Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s indecision after he announced this morning that several areas including London, Barrow in Furness and York were to be moved for tier one ‘medium’ to tier two but said nothing on Lancashire and Greater Manchester.

She said: “Whatever the decision ministers must stop dithering. There are people’s lives and livelihoods at risk.

“This is just causing general confusion and uncertainty among the public.”

Cllr Mohammed Khan, leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, said: “I am very disappointed that after six days of talks the government cannot come up woth an adequate support package for the county. This dithering is losing the support of the community.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs this morning: “Turning first to parts of the country where prevalence of the virus is highest, discussions are ongoing with local leaders on moving from high to very high. These are areas where transmission is rising at the sharpest rate and where we see a very real risk to the local NHS.

“Discussions with local leaders in Greater Manchester, Lancashire and elsewhere continue, and I do not want to pre-empt them. Those discussions do, of course, include what financial support is needed.”

The Joint Biosecurity Centre’s Gold Command is understood to have approved a tier three plan for Lancashire and Greater Manchester which county council leader Cllr Geoff Driver and Cllr Khan have said is ‘inevitable’.

They are holding out for a £64million supports package that dwarfs the £12m currently on offer from the government to pay for expand local test and trace capacity and enforcement.

Councillor Khan said: “We can only get the virus under control if we get the funding, the support and the powers that allows us to do that effectively.

“We vow to keep fighting for a support package that cushions the blow of the additional restrictions.”

Blackburn with Darwen’s public health director Professor Dominic Harrison and his Lancashire County Council counterpart Dr Sakthi Karunanithi have warned that even upgrading to tier three will not be enough to stem the rise in Covid-19 infections.