After an incredibly challenging period of national lockdown, our region now finds itself in the ‘very high’ tier 3. These restrictions are designed to protect the most vulnerable among us, drive down infection rates, and allow us to move into a less strict set of measures.
That is not to say these last four weeks have counted for nothing. Before lockdown, compliance with the measures in place for our region saw infections level off and once again residents across the length and breadth of Northumberland, Tyneside, Wearside and County Durham have united with great effect. Infection rates have dropped rapidly in recent days as the impact of lockdown takes effect and we are extremely grateful to all residents for making this happen.
Your efforts have sustained capacity in critical care units, ensured treatments for many serious illnesses can continue, and critically, those who have become gravely ill with Covid-19 have been able to receive the best possible care. You have saved lives and protected the most vulnerable in our communities.
However, infection rates do remain high and ahead of many other parts of the country. That means as we head into the depths of winter, a time in which the NHS is typically under the greatest strain, we must continue to do what we can to protect each other and make sure our hospitals can cope with the demands upon them.
That means we must avoid mixing with other households indoors; outdoor gatherings must be limited to six socially-distanced individuals; hospitality settings must remain closed except for takeaway and delivery services; and indoor leisure and entertainment venues must remain closed.
We must continue to work together and by doing so we will put ourselves in a position to move to a tier which offers more of the freedoms we so dearly miss. Let’s keep going so we can once again meet up and socialise with our families and friends, help more of our local businesses reopen their doors to customers or so that we can cheer on our beloved sports teams.
As a region we will continue to fight for the support required for those residents and businesses that have already suffered so much, and we will work with government to deploy targeted rapid community testing to try and lift some of the barriers placed upon us by COVID-19.
This will only be possible if we all take responsibility and do our bit for one another.
The reopening of shops and retail outlets is certainly welcome but we know this will result in busy town and city centres as people head out for their Christmas shopping. It is important that we support local independent businesses and if you head to the larger, busier outlets please follow the guidance and stick to hands, face, space at all times. Small changes to your plans could make a huge difference. Walk or cycle to local shops if possible, use public transport or if you have to drive, park your vehicle in quieter car parks and keep two metres apart from people from other households at every opportunity.
Even though the UK will see a relaxation of the rules over Christmas, with three households allowed to meet over a five-day period, we still need to do so responsibly to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
Announcements about vaccines, treatments and rapid testing have placed an endpoint on the horizon, but we cannot afford to let our guard down in the fight against this deadly virus. It is not over. Please, let’s continue to work as one, protect our most vulnerable residents, and keep as much pressure as possible off the NHS to help us enter 2021 with a real opportunity to get back to normality.
Cllr Simon Henig, CBE, Leader, Durham County Council
Cllr Martin Gannon, Leader, Gateshead Council
Cllr Nick Forbes, CBE, Leader, Newcastle City Council
Norma Redfearn CBE, Elected Mayor, North Tyneside Council
Cllr Glen Sanderson, Leader, Northumberland County Council
Cllr Tracey Dixon, Leader, South Tyneside Council
Cllr Graeme Miller, Leader, Sunderland City Council
Jamie Driscoll, North of Tyne Mayor
Kim McGuinness, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner