Greater Manchester and Lancashire are to receive a “strengthened package of support” to tackle a rise in the Delta coronavirus variant, Matt Hancock has announced – with residents told to minimise travel.

Addressing the Commons, the health secretary said: “I can tell the House that today, working with local authorities, 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 that we are seeing there.”

On the government’s website, the ‘minimise travel’ page has also been updated to include areas in Greater Manchester and Lancashire.

It states: “In the areas listed above, wherever possible, you should try to meet outside rather than inside where possible, keep two metres apart from people that you don’t live with (unless you have formed a support bubble with them) – this includes friends and family you don’t live with, minimise travel in and out of affected areas.”

The support package announced on Tuesday includes:

• Rapid response teams

• Extra testing

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• Military support

• Supervised in-school testing

Mr Hancock told the Commons: “I want to encourage everyone in Manchester and Lancashire to get the tests on offer.

“We know that this approach can work. We’ve seen it work in south London and in Bolton in stopping a rise in the number of cases and this is the next stage of tackling the pandemic in Manchester and in Lancashire.

“And of course, it is vital that people in these areas as everywhere else come forward and get the jab as soon as they are eligible because that is our way out of this pandemic together.”

Other areas where the new COVID-19 variant is spreading include Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen, Kirklees, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside.

As with residents of Greater Manchester and Lancashire, people in the areas above are advised by the government to try and meet outside, keep two metres apart and minimise travel.

Individuals are also advised to continue to work from home if they can and to get tested twice a week.

Mr Hancock announced the update in the Commons after briefing the relevant MPs on Tuesday morning.

It comes less than two weeks before 21 June, the government’s proposed date for the next relaxation of restrictions.

Responding to the announcement made by Mr Hancock in the Commons, the PM’s official spokesman said: “We want to provide the package of support that has been effective in Bolton to a wider area to tackle the cases of the Delta variant.”

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The Indian (Delta) variant of COVID-19 is 40% more transmissible than the Kent (Alpha) strain, Matt Hancock has told Sky News.

At the weekend, Matt Hancock told Sky News the Indian variant of coronavirus makes the decision about lifting lockdown restrictions on 21 June “more difficult”.

The new COVID-19 variant, also known as the Delta variant, is 40% more transmissible than the Kent (Alpha) strain, the health secretary said, leaving the easing of social distancing in the balance for the original target date.

It comes as government figures released on Tuesday show nearly a third of secondary school pupils in Bolton were absent for COVID-related reasons on the week before half-term.

In the North West of England, Covid-19 related pupil absence was 4% on May 27, compared to the national average of 1.8%, according to the statistics,

This was predominantly due to an increase in cases of coronavirus in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen, the Department for Education (DfE) analysis said.

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