Enhanced Covid support confirmed for North East
The North East is set to receive an “enhanced government response” in a bid to bring down Covid infection rates and bolster a faltering vaccination take-up programme.
It has been confirmed that the region is being given new support from Monday (July 26) to help curb the spread of the virus and improve vaccine uptake in areas where many people are yet to be jabbed.
However, leaders have confirmed that there will not be any lockdown measures re-imposed on the North East
The region still has some of the highest infection rates in the country, with Teesside now England’s virus hotspot and South Tyneside and Sunderland having the sixth and seventh highest rates of infection in the country.
In the seven days to July 18, South Tyneside had 1113.4 cases per 100,000 people while Sunderland had 1086.8.
In Gateshead there were 905.2 cases per 100,000, Newcastle had 824.3 while County Durham saw 820.4.
North Tyneside and Northumberland were lower with 744.5 and 694.7 cases per 100,000 respectively.
And while the North East as a whole has a strong record on vaccinations, boasting the second best record in England, areas like Newcastle and Middlesbrough have lagged well behind in the delivery of doses.
Health bosses have reported this week that Newcastle has seen a “dramatic drop” in vaccinations over the last month, with the number of jabs each day more than halving.
Council leaders said that the announcement was a “sobering reminder that we all still have a responsibility to make sure we continue to do our bit” to reverse the steep rise in Covid cases.
The Department of Health and Social Care confirmed that the support package will last for an initial five weeks and include “the option to deliver extra testing in these targeted areas, the provision of logistical support to maximise vaccine and testing uptake, and further help for local public health campaigns”.
The same measures are already in place in most of the North West, which was the country’s Covid hotspot before being overtaken by the North East.
They will apply in Durham, Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, and Stockton.
Public Health Minister Jo Churchill, said: “By working in lockstep with local authorities and directors of public health, this additional support should help turn the tide on these growing case numbers and extend the wall of protection that vaccines is creating across the country.
“We all have a part to play in the continued fight against this virus and our message is a clear one: the best thing we can all do to protect ourselves and our loved ones is getting jabbed. If you haven’t had your first or second doses, I’d urge you to book your vaccination at the first opportunity.”
Leaders of seven North East councils urged people to keep following basic public safety measures, such as wearing face coverings and regular hand washing, and to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Newcastle, County Durham, Sunderland, Gateshead, South Tyneside, North Tyneside, and Northumberland councils said the public must “continue to be cautious as we take the next step on the roadmap and carry on looking out for one another, not least our frontline workers who we all rely on”.
They also warned of rising pressure on NHS services, a day after Newcastle Hospitals’ chief executive reported that staff were under more pressure now than at any time during the pandemic.
Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Simon Clarke said that the enhanced response would provide “national support to target vaccine uptake in those areas where it is needed most”.
He added that the measures “may include targeted testing, support with vaccine rollout, support conducting ‘door to door’ testing and approval to recommend additional interventions in schools”.
In a statement also signed by North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll and Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness, the LA7 group said: “Our best defence against the virus is still the vaccines, and the NHS, health partners, local authorities and countless volunteers have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure they are accessible to all. Getting a vaccine will mean you are less likely to become ill, and have less chance of spreading the virus to others who may be more vulnerable than you are.
“The evidence is indisputable – vaccination works and has hugely reduced the risk of serious illness. The vast majority of cases are in those yet to be vaccinated and those who get Covid who have been double-jabbed are generally showing mild, if any symptoms.
“Please make sure you get both doses. You can book appointments now at www.nhs.uk or attend your nearest walk-in centre. It is the most important thing we can all do to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”
They added: “If we throw caution to the wind now, NHS services may face another surge in pressures, already-stretched council services will be further pushed to the limit, and the virus will be able to do more damage to our communities which have already suffered so much.
“With fewer restrictions on our lives, it is also vital that we don’t forget about the importance of testing as the virus continues to spread through our villages, towns and cities.
“Widely-available Lateral Flow Tests (LFT) that you can take at home will help identify if you have the virus without realising so you can self-isolate to ensure you don’t pass it on further. “And PCR tests will continue to be available for those with symptoms and people confirming a positive LFT result.
“Where required, you will still need to self-isolate to help stop onward transmission.
“Together we have achieved so much during the pandemic and we thank you for your continued support. Let’s carry on being careful to make sure these collective efforts are not wasted in the weeks and months to come.”