Residents must ‘follow guidance to avoid local lockdown’ after outbreak

Sunderland’s director of public health has appealed for residents to follow guidance to avoid a local lockdown after a 300-person event led to a small outbreak.

Gillian Gibson said the council will act if residents or venues are not following Government guidance to protect the city’s most vulnerable.

It comes after Sunderland City Council urged hundreds of people to self-isolate after an outbreak linked to a charity football event on August 30 at Burnside working men’s club, which lies on the border of Sunderland and Durham.

Up to 300 people who attended the match are being asked to self-isolate for 14 days from the date of the event after 28 people who attended tested positive for Covid-19.

A number of businesses and schools have already announced their closure with more added to the list more recently.

Although a local lockdown is not on the cards yet, residents are urged to follow social distancing rules.

Ms Gibson said: “We would only impose restrictions if our investigations were telling us that there was a particular issue.

“We don’t want to impose restrictions and we don’t need to if everybody follows the public health guidance.

“So I think my plea to our residents would be please follow the guidance then we won’t need to get into a local lockdown.

“But if we do see that venues are not following the guidance, or if we think there is a really high risk in a particular area, then we must act to try and protect our more vulnerable people.

The director of public health for the city confirmed that the council contacted 60 people over the weekend who tested positive out of over 80- some related to the charity event and others not.

She said: “We don’t know where all of them have come from. We are seeing a significant number who are related to this event but we’re also seeing some other clusters appearing related to other hospitality venues.

“Largely we’re seeing that in young people but we are seeing some older people as well amongst that.

“My view would be that people probably have relaxed a bit too much over the last few weeks and that’s why we’re seeing it and that’s not surprising.

Gillian Gibson (left), Sunderland’s Director of Public Health, and Amanda Healy (right), Durham’s Director of Public Health, at Burnside Working Men’s Club
(Image: Craig Connor/ChronicleLive)

“People are being asked to go back to work. We’ve got schools going back and so life’s feeling more normal and it’s really difficult then to continue to do that social distancing but I think that people need to do it.”

Sunderland has seen an increase in the number of younger people testing positive for the virus, with more people in their late teens and early 20s.

Ms Gibson said it may be less of an incentive for younger people to follow guidance because they are less likely to get really ill from the virus.

She said: “It is less of an incentive if the likelihood is you’ll just be slightly poorly then you might want to go out and enjoy yourself.

“I think what they need to remember is that they can then pass it on to their family members who may be a bit older, a bit more vulnerable to infection and therefore they could end up much more seriously ill and I’m sure no young people want to do that.

“I don’t think they’re being and thoughtless. I think that they are just doing what young people do.”

Several schools in Sunderland have also closed due to children testing positive for the virus- but Ms Gibson said education for children is “so important.”

She added: “I think that it’s just so important that our children get their education that they’re able to socialise with their peers.

“I can’t think of anything more important than keeping our children at school. We need to do all that we can to make that happen.”

Durham County Council has been working with Sunderland City Council and Public Health England to manage the public health response.

Amanda Healy, Durham’s director of public health, said a local lockdown would be the “last resort” and that it would be a national intervention.

She said: “A local lockdown is the last thing we would want to put in place. We want our economy to be moving again.

“We want our schools back, universities starting so a local lockdown would be the last resort and it would be a national intervention if we got to that point.

“I think it is really important that this outbreak is a reminder that coronavirus is still here. It hasn’t gone away, and anyone can be affected by it.

“And for everybody to remember the really simple messages about washing hands, social distancing and who you should and shouldn’t be mixing with.”

The director of public health confirmed that the council is working closely with the Burnside Working Men’s Club.

She said: “What we’re doing is working closely with the club, they’re cooperating really closely with us.

“They’ve closed the venue and we will be working with them to look at what measures they could be putting in place to improve on what was there before and ahead of them reopening.”

The council are also working to get testing centres as “close to people as possible” to make it easier to identify those infected.

Mrs Healy said: “What we hope is that we have testing as close to people as possible, so we’ve still got the testing centre at Stanley and several other across County Durham and colleagues in Sunderland are looking at mobile testing units and having access to testing as close as possible for people who might have been at the event.”

Chronicle Live – Sunderland