Health Secretary Matt Hancock has explained exactly why the whole of Lancashire has been placed into the toughest restrictions once national lockdown ends on December 2.

The majority of residents in Preston and East Lancashire had been braced for Tier 3.

However, the decision to include every other part of the county - despite falling infection rates - came as a shock to some as there is great regional variation within the county boundaries.

A request had been made for Blackburn with Darwen, Hyndburn, Rossendale, Burnley, Pendle and Preston to go into Tier 3 restrictions while the rest of the county - including Fylde, Wyre, Lancaster, Chorley, South Ribble, Ribble Valley and West Lancashire - would go into Tier 2.

Hyndburn is the only Lancashire borough where weekly cases are still rising and now has the fifth highest infection rate in England.

However four areas are now below the England average of 208.7, while Lancaster's rate has dropped below 100 for the first time in weeks.

Mr Hancock praised the efforts of Lancashire families in bring down cases - but explained why this was not enough.

He said: “While there have been improvements in some areas, case rates and the proportion of tests which are positive for Covid-19 remain high.

“Case rates in over 60s are very high (over 200 per 100,000) in six lower tier local authorities.

"There is still pressure on the NHS in this region.”

The Tier 3 announcement provoked outrage, disappointment, and ultimately a sense of a lack of surprise from local leaders.

Lancashire Tier 3 announcement

The Tier 3 restrictions will come into force on December 2 when the national lockdown ends.

They will be in place for at least two weeks before being reviewed on December 16, while the whole system will remain until March.

However, there will be a brief reprieve over Christmas when the three household bubble rules are brought in on December 23 and will run for five days.

Mr Hancock added: "Thanks to the shared sacrifice of everyone in recent weeks, in following the national restrictions, we have been able to start to bring the virus back under control and slow its growth, easing some of the pressure on the NHS.

"We will do this by returning to a regional tiered approach, saving the toughest measures for the parts of the country where prevalence remains too high.

"The tiering approach provides a framework that, if used firmly, should prevent the need to introduce stricter national measures.

"We have been able to announce UK-wide arrangements for Christmas, allowing friends and loved ones to reunite, and form a Christmas bubble of three households for five days over the Christmas period.

"We have increased funding through our Contain Outbreak Management Fund, which will provide monthly payments to local authorities facing higher restrictions.

"We are also launching a major community testing programme, honing in on the areas with the greatest rate of infection.

"This programme is open to local authorities in Tier 3 areas and offers help to get out of the toughest restrictions as fast as possible."