HEALTH Secretary Matt Hancock has blamed an 'unrelenting rise in cases in Lancashire' for moving the county including Blackburn with Darwen into the toughest level of coronavirus restrictions.

This morning he upgraded its Local Covid Alert Level from tier two 'High' to tier three 'Very High' from midnight for an initial two weeks,

He warned that the high rates of coronavirus infection in Lancashire meant action was essential and that he expected hospital admissions in the county caused by the disease to rise.

Mr Hancock said: “An unrelenting rise in cases in Lancashire means we must act now, and we have worked intensively with local leaders to agree on additional restrictions.

“I know how heavy these additional challenges will weigh on everyday life for the people of Lancashire – but they are critical in bringing this virus under control.

“Without them, we risk the health of your loved ones, your most vulnerable, and your local NHS services. Now is the time to play your part, and we will make sure you are supported.”

The new tier three status means that from midnight people must not socialise with anybody they do not live with, or have formed a support bubble with, in any indoor setting or in any private garden or at most outdoor hospitality venues and ticketed events and they must not socialise in a group of more than six in an outdoor public space such as a park or beach, the countryside, a public garden or a sports venue

It also requires all pubs and bars to close, unless they are serving substantial meals.

The new alert level means people should try to avoid travelling outside the very-high alert level or entering a very-high alert level area, other than for work, education or for caring responsibilities or to travel through as part of a longer journey and Lancashire residents should avoid staying overnight in another part of the UK, and others should avoid staying overnight in the 'Very High Alert' area

Addition restrictions come in a one minute past midnight on Monday closing casinos, bingo halls, bookmakers and betting shops, and soft play areas and banning car boot sales.

The new tier three 'Very High' rating covers all parts of Lancashire including Burnley, Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool, Chorley. Hyndburn, Pendle, Preston, Ribble Valley, Rossendale, and South Ribble.

Mr Hancock said the measures would be reviewed every 14 days to consider whether they were still appropriate.

He said that in Lancashire, infection rates are among the highest in the country and continuing to rise rapidly.

Rates in the county are highest for those aged 16to 29 at 552 per 100,000 people, while in the most vulnerable age group, those aged over 60, cases stand at 214 per 100,000 people.

This increases to 594 over 100,000 for the over 60s in Burnley and 671 per 100,000 for 16 to 29 year olds.

Mr Hancock said that as hospitalisations can occur two to three weeks after someone is infected with the virus, he anticipated the number of patients in hospital in Lancashire to rise.

He said the number of patients with COVID-19 in intensive care beds has reached nearly half the number seen at the height of the pandemic earlier this year, and the latest data suggests there will be more people in mechanical ventilation beds in Lancashire within two weeks than there were in the first wave.