Newcastle’s top public health official says he is “not going to hold my breath” over the prospect of the North East being allowed to relax local Covid restrictions next week.
Prof Eugene Milne does not expect the region to drop from Tier 3 to Tier 2 when the Government reviews the measures on December 16.
Infection rates have dropped substantially in many parts of the North East over recent weeks and, according to figures published by Newcastle City Council, the region’s combined rate is now below the national average for England.
However, the city’s public health director told councillors on Thursday evening that no change in tier status is likely for most parts of the country until the new year.
A drop to Tier 2 next week would allow pubs, bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues to open for a few days before Christmas.
Prof Milne said that the reopening of shops following the end of the second national lockdown is yet to produce the same surge in Covid cases that was seen at the start of November, just before the shutdown began, but that the data was only cause for “a little bit of optimism”.
He told the council’s health scrutiny committee: “At the moment, that has not seen the same kind of spike we saw previously. At the moment I have a little bit of optimism about that.
“The case numbers have kind of levelled out but they are not rising yet. We have had a couple of days where they have gone up, but overall we are about level at the moment.
“I am not going to hold my breath about going into a different tier next week.
“I think the likelihood is that most areas are going to stay in the tier they are in. If anything, London and the South East may be being reconsidered because of what is going on down there at the moment.
“I think it is more likely that we will be looking at things into the new year when we know what has happened as a consequence of the opening of retail and the Christmas window.”
According to data published by Newcastle City Council, the infection rate in the North East is now 144 new weekly cases per 100,000 people – below the national average of 149.
On the day that the North East was placed into Tier 3, November 26, the region’s infection rate was 254 per 100,000.
Unlike pre-lockdown decisions around local Covid restrictions, local council leaders are not expected to have a say on what happens to their region – with the process dictated by the government.
Prof Milne added: “It is a Government decision. Prior to the mass lockdown there was quite a lot of negotiation with specific areas about what tier they would be in, I don’t expect that to happen so much this time around. I think it will be much more directed.
“In the Government’s Covid winter plan, it published the different parameters it would take into account when thinking about changing tiers.
“It didn’t publish any thresholds, I don’t think it intends to do that. They’ve also switched from just looking at individual areas to looking at surrounding areas, which I think has changed the way they have interpreted it.
“I do think when they look at the status of areas across the country, they are going to be thinking about that proximity of decisions to the Christmas window and what that might do.”