North East public health chiefs have warned that coronavirus “is still a threat” to our region and urged the public to act with caution when lockdown measures are eased next week.
Major rule changes will come into force on Monday, relaxing Covid restrictions across England.
People will be allowed to socialise with friends and family inside private homes, pubs and restaurants can allow customers indoors again, and fans will be allowed back into football stadiums.
Other changes include an end to social distancing rules requiring people from different households to keep two metres apart – allowing many people to hug for the first time in months.
But the relaxation comes amid concerns over the spread of the Indian Covid variant of concern, which has caused a major spike in cases in hotspots like Bolton and is feared could derail hopes of releasing the remaining lockdown measures on June 21.
There are currently 19 cases of the fast-spreading strain in the North East, though this is the lowest number of anywhere in England – accounting for just 1.5% of all current Covid cases here.
In a statement issued on Friday morning, public health directors from seven North East councils reminded the public that the virus still poses a risk – particularly to those yet to be vaccinated at all or waiting to get their second dose.
The statement was issued by public health directors from Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Gateshead, County Durham, and Sunderland – Eugene Milne, Liz Morgan, Wendy Burke, Tom Hall, Alice Wiseman, Amanda Healy, and Gerry Taylor.
They said: “The changes on Monday will make it easier for families to reunite, as they can once again visit relatives and stay overnight. More businesses can reopen or welcome customers indoors and people can enjoy breaks in the UK.
“And, while we are able to embrace loved ones with less fear of putting one another in danger, we still need to do this cautiously so as not to inadvertently pass on the virus.
“We cannot afford to forget that Covid is still a threat, and our communities are still at risk.
There has been extraordinary progress of the vaccination programme and we remain eternally grateful to all of those who continue to make its rollout such a success and to everyone who takes up their vaccinations.
“While younger people who are yet to be vaccinated are less susceptible to serious illness from the virus, they are not without risk. Similarly, some older people and some who work closely with vulnerable individuals remain unvaccinated, and many more are still awaiting a second dose.”
Both North Tyneside and Newcastle health chiefs have confirmed cases of the Indian variant this week, but the experts’ statement on Friday did not address its presence in the region.
The seven public health directors urged people to continue to wear face coverings in shops and when moving around indoor hospitality settings, as well as opening windows when socialising indoors to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.
They added: “Together, our region has come through a long and difficult time and our communities have gone to incredible lengths to protect as many people as possible. Let’s ensure that while we reap the benefits of the progress, we don’t take any unnecessary risks to jeopardise that hard work.
“Keep on doing your bit to protect others, take up the offer of both vaccine doses when your time comes, and together we will reach Stage Four of the roadmap on June 21 with the prospect of even fewer restrictions on our daily lives.”