A national lockdown must be put in place to avoid “dire” consequences as a third wave of coronavirus rampages across the UK, North East leaders have warned.
The region was among those plunged into Tier 4 last week, meaning that non-essential shops have had to close and people have been told they must only leave their home for a limited number of reasons – such as work, education, and food shopping.
But with Covid cases continuing to escalate across England and the new, faster-spreading strain of the virus taking hold, local officials have again called for stricter rules to be enforced urgently across the nation.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is now due to make a televised address at 8pm on Monday to outline new lockdown plans.
Ahead of the expected new measures being announced amid mounting pressure for action, council leaders from Newcastle, Gateshead, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Sunderland, and County Durham said that the tier system was failing to combat the new variant and that another lockdown was now “the only sensible course of action”.
Labour leader Keir Starmer called on Sunday for a national lockdown to be imposed within 24 hours, while teaching unions have slammed the decision to allow most of England’s primary schools to reopen.
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced a new lockdown coming into force on Tuesday, January 5, that will see schools closed until at least February.
According to latest figures released by Newcastle City Council on Monday, the infection rate in the North East is currently 383 new weekly cases per 100,000 people – a massive jump from pre-Christmas numbers, though below the national average of 520.
On December 23, the North East infection rate was 188 per 100,000.
And in a statement on Monday afternoon, leaders from the LA7 group of councils as well as the North of Tyne mayor and the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner said that the numbers here “will continue to get worse before they get better”.
Councils added that they would “give whatever support we can” to school pupils learning from home and, with blanket school closures in England yet to be confirmed, would “support whatever decision” individual schools make on whether to open or not.
Here is the statement in full, signed 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:
“Covid-19 is continuing to ramp up the pressure on NHS services nationally and it is abundantly clear that national action is required.
“We are all aware of the challenges hospitals are facing as infections continue to rise with more and more people becoming seriously ill and requiring medical attention as a result.
“A national lockdown is now the only sensible course of action. Tiered restrictions appear to be failing to slow down transmission and the new, more transmissible variant of the virus continues to spread rapidly through communities up and down the country. We have seen in London and the South East what impact this variant can have on health services, and we must strive to do everything in our power to prevent local services reaching capacity as they have elsewhere.
“We also know that the variant is present in our region and our cases will continue to get worse before they get better and, coupled with the fact we are yet to see the impact of the relaxation of the rules on Christmas Day in the data, we must all do our bit while the vaccination programme is carried out.
“It remains essential that we all continue to follow the national public health guidance and stay at home as much as possible, keep your distance from others if you do need to leave your home, wash your hands regularly, wear a face covering when required and get tested if you have symptoms. It is important to keep homes well ventilated as well by opening windows periodically.
“Infections are higher than ever before and if the Government does not respond accordingly the consequences will be dire.
“Our communities have already endured so much hardship and it is difficult to once again accept the situation we are in, but we must take a pro-active approach as introducing further measures targeted at the prevention of further spread of the virus is much better than having to act to cure the problem at a later date.
“A national lockdown period will provide clear and consistent guidance requiring people in all parts of the country to remain at home except for essential reasons and significantly limit the opportunities for the virus to spread from person to person.
“We also know this is a challenging time for schools, their staff, pupils and parents. Within our own local authority areas, we will continue to support all educational settings to continue to review their individual circumstances and support whatever decision they make.
“For those pupils who will continue learning from home we will give whatever support we can to assist in the continuity of their learning. Our priority is educating our young people, but this must be done with the safety of school staff, pupils and their parents at the forefront of our minds.
“We cannot allow this virus to completely overwhelm our hospitals, especially when there is so much hope on the horizon with the scaling up of the vaccination programme.
“The Government must act now to protect our communities and prevent more lives being lost to this deadly disease.”