The UK’s staggering Covid death toll of more than 100,000 is a “sobering reminder as to how deadly this virus is”, North East leaders say.
The death toll of 100,162 is the highest in Europe and almost 5,000 of those deaths have come in the North East, with our region reporting the second highest rate of deaths behind only the North West.
Local council leaders say that the news was “incredibly tough to take” and that there are “questions to be answered” about the UK’s response to the pandemic.
But they added that residents had to attempt to draw some comfort from the knowledge that “countless more” people had been saved by the sacrifices made during lockdown measures over the past year.
Prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Wednesday that the third national lockdown will be extended, with schools not able to fully reopen until March 8 at the earliest, and that an exit plan will be published by the Government on February 22.
Mr Johnson has come under fire for saying that the Government “did everything we could” in the fight against the virus, with the UK’s death rate among the worst in the world.
Covid infection rates in the North East “remain high”, though below the England average.
According to Newcastle City Council, the infection rate for the North East as a whole is 280 new cases per 100,000 population per week – compared to 346 for England.
Council leaders from Newcastle, Gateshead, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Sunderland, and County Durham have again urged people to stay at home wherever possible.
Their statement, also signed by the North of Tyne mayor and Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “Every single one of us has suffered as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and we have all made sacrifices in an attempt to save as many lives as possible. To see the death toll pass 100,000 loved ones is a sobering reminder as to how deadly this virus is.
“Every life lost brings grief to that person’s family, friends and community, and that so many have died over the past 12 months is incredibly tough to take.
“Our own communities in the North East have experienced this grief and as we mourn for those who have lost their lives, we must try and take solace in the fact that countless more have been saved as a result of the efforts made by everyone in our region.
“While we await added protection through vaccines, which will still take many months to achieve, we must all continue doing what we can to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our wider communities, even if you’ve had the vaccine.
“Stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary, maintain your distance from others at all times, keep washing your hands thoroughly and regularly, and wear a face covering where required unless exempt.
“Infection rates remain high, especially with the more transmissible variant of the virus accounting for the majority of our cases now, and there can be no room for complacency.”
The councils added that Covid outbreaks are still being seen in workplaces and told employers whose staff cannot work from home to “make every possible effort to operate in a Covid-secure manner”.
They added: “There is still a long way to go in the fight against this virus, with lessons to be learned and questions to be answered. Quick solutions are needed for our schoolchildren, most of whom will still be learning at home until at least March 8, and our businesses need support to survive this period of inactivity.
“The pandemic has caused so much pain already and we must do what we can to minimise further loss of life. Please, stay at home, follow the Hands, Face, Space guidance, and self-isolate and book a test if you develop symptoms. Thank you.”
The statement was issued by council leaders Nick Forbes, Martin Gannon, Glen Sanderson, Norma Redfearn, Tracey Dixon, Graeme Miller, Simon Henig, plus mayor Jamie Driscoll and PCC Kim McGuinness.