Plea for parts of North East not to 'throw away' progress as infection rates rise

A plea has gone out to people across large parts of the North East not to ''throw away'' the progress made in tackling coronavirus. Despite the latest lockdown, rates of infection are rising again with people now being urged to ''double their efforts''.

Our towns and cities saw an influx of people in the days leading up to the lockdown, as many made for the shops to stock up before Christmas.

Public Health officials say the impact of this is starting to feed into the number of people testing positive.

There are also concerns that even since the restrictions came in, the region's urban areas and beauty spots have been busier than had been expected.

Now, leaders in seven council areas, stretching from Northumberland to County Durham are urging people to stick to the rules, take the virus seriously or risk tougher restrictions continuing.

Shoppers in Newcastle the day before the second national Lockdown was introduced. Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA

In a joint statement the leaders said: “We once again thank everyone for their efforts which saw our figures flattening ahead of lockdown. However, we are seeing the rate of Covid infection rising, hospital admissions going up, more outbreaks in vulnerable populations and workplaces as well as in households and sadly more deaths.

“This virus is everywhere, and we need to all recognise this when we go about our daily lives. That means reducing social contact, maintaining social distance, good individual and collective hygiene practice wherever we are and wearing face coverings where required.''

900

cases in Gateshead in the last 7 days

When you look at the figures, at the beginning of October, Gateshead for example saw around 450 cases per 100,000. There have now been 900 cases in the last seven days. The numbers have doubled in that time.

Alice Wiseman, Gateshead Director of Public Health said:

It's not as bad as September where we saw it double every two weeks, but seeing it double over the month means if we continue in that direction, in a month's time we're going to be in a really challenging position.

Alice Wiseman, Gateshead Director of Public Health

Despite having been highlighted by the Chief Medical Officer and Prime Minister as the only region to see restrictions having an impact on numbers, there is a concern that we may come out of lockdown in a worse position in terms of infection than we went in.

The rising numbers are also beginning to have an impact on our NHS and social care services, particularly at Gateshead's Queen Elizabeth Hospital:

Our hospital is already under significant pressure and we have more people in hospital now than we had in the peak of the first wave back in April and we've also started to see a number of deaths associated with that sadly, so over the last nine weeks since the beginning of September, we've had 53 deaths [in Gateshead] and really, they have been concentrated in these last few weeks.

Alice Wiseman, Gateshead Director of Public Health

The Government has made a commitment to return to the tier system following the national lockdown, but businesses here may be forced to remain closed:

What we really need to do is for people to work with us to bring to Covid transmission numbers down so we're in a much stronger place as we move towards the end of the year. Every time you sacrifice having that coffee with your friend or your family just knowing the impact that you're having on potentially saving somebody else's life.

Alice Wiseman, Gateshead Director of Public Health

The leaders of the seven North East councils said: ''We are currently looking at the best way to utilise the rapid turnaround tests to support our communities and the news of a potential vaccine is of course welcomed – but in the short term we must all continue to try and suppress the virus.

“We cannot let our guard slip and we ask that you join us in redoubling our efforts over the next two weeks to protect yourself, your loved ones, your friends and particularly those residents in our towns, cities and villages who are at greatest risk from the devastating impact of coronavirus. Thank you.”


Meanwhile, businesses on Teesside say they're worried about coming out of lockdown only to face tier three restrictions.

Coronavirus cases in parts of Teesside are now among the highest in the country.

John Paul Spence is from Dr Watsons in Middlesbrough:

The town's Mayor says the rate has 'sky-rocketed' in the last week, with a warning that businesses will fail to reap the much-needed benefits of the Christmas trading period - unless lockdown rules are followed more carefully.

Watch the full report from our Correspondent Rachel Bullock: