"It's not over yet" - public health chiefs plead caution as North East Covid infection rate drops

Video report by Jonny Blair

The people of the North East have been urged to remain cautious over the Easter weekend and not risk undermining major progress in cutting Covid cases.

Today it emerged that fewer than one in five people across the country request a Covid-19 test if they have symptoms, while adherence to self-isolation is low, according to a large study examining the Test and Trace system.

37 survey waves were carried out from March 2 last year to January 27 this year, with about 2,000 participants in each wave.


of people could identify the main symptoms of Covid-19


of people adhered to rules around self-isolation, though this improved in January to 52%


of people requested a Covid test if they had experienced symptoms in the previous 7 days

Men, younger people and those with young children were less likely to self-isolate, as were those from more working-class backgrounds, people experiencing greater financial hardship, and those working in key sectors.

Common reasons for not fully self-isolating included to go to the shops or work, for a medical need other than Covid-19, to care for a vulnerable person, to exercise or meet others, or because symptoms were only mild or got better.

After weeks of the average infection rate across the North East appearing to have plateaued, figures from the beginning of this week have finally shown a marked drop.

The current average rate of infection across Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland, and County Durham is now 50 new weekly cases per 100,000 people - having previously hovered around the 70 mark since early March.


weekly Covid cases per 100k people across the region

That figure is now just below the England average and Prof Eugene Milne, Newcastle's director of public health, has urged people to keep up their efforts over the bank holiday weekend and ensure the lockdown exit roadmap remains on track.

He said: "The roadmap out of lockdown has so far been able to proceed according to plan, and we now have more freedoms than we have been able to enjoy for some time.

"We can once again meet friends and relatives in groups of up to six outdoors and make use of outdoor sports facilities, which I know will be a welcome relief for everyone after such a long and challenging period of strict lockdown.

Professor Eugene Milne

"But those sacrifices were made to protect our loved ones and it was through working together that we have been able to reduce infection rates so significantly.

"While we can absolutely make the most of these freedoms, we have a responsibility to do so cautiously.

"Only mix with others outdoors, continue to keep a safe distance from anyone not in your household or support bubble, wear a face covering where required and maintain hand hygiene.

Sadly we are not yet at the stage where we can hug our parents or stay the night with friends, but if we continue to work together to beat Covid, that time will come. And the more we suppress transmission of the virus now, the sooner that will be.

Professor Eugene Milne, Newcastle Director of Public Health

"Please continue to be careful and follow the rules, the pandemic is not over yet."

Figures released by Newcastle City Council showed that the city had recorded its highest number of daily cases this month on March 28, more than 40.

But the council said this was due to a delay in some data coming through, not a sudden spike in cases, and that the number was expected to drop back down considerably in the coming days.

As of last Monday, March 29, the government's stay at home order has been relaxed and people are now allowed to meet up with another household or up to five friends or family members outdoors - including in gardens.

The next step in the lockdown roadmap is due on April 12, when non-essential shops, hairdressers and nail salons, and public buildings such as libraries and museums will all reopen.

Pubs and restaurants will also be allowed to open again on that date, but with outdoor service only.

Step three of the roadmap is earmarked for May 17 at the earliest, when indoor mixing and overnight stays with friends and family will be allowed again. 

It is hoped that all legal limits on social contact can be lifted on June 21.

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