Health chief says North East areas with lower Covid rates should not be allowed to break away
Parts of the North East with lower Covid infection rates should not be allowed to break away from the rest of the region and exit Tier 3 measures, a North East public health chief believes.
Prof Eugene Milne, Newcastle’s director of public health, says that the local council areas that make up the group known as the LA7 should not be divided when it comes to relaxing restrictions.
One MP called on Thursday for the government to “ignore the LA7” and allow County Durham to go it alone in Tier 2 if case numbers come down, separating it from Newcastle, Gateshead, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, and Sunderland.
South Tyneside currently has a significantly higher infection rate than the other six areas, while neighbouring Gateshead has the lowest rate in the region.
But Prof Milne says the region needs to stick together in the fight against Covid, citing the limited success of initial lockdown measures that began here in September and saw the region named as the only part of England which came close to getting coronavirus under control before the second national lockdown.
Newcastle’s public health director warned that the virus “is not going to obey administrative boundaries”.
He said: “One of the things that was clear from the previous action that was taken in September collectively is that it was effective partly because it covered the natural distribution of people’s movements.
“It covered commuter areas, it covered the way people move in and out of the city and around the area. The LA7 is a relatively geographically distinct area and that probably contributed to the fact that we managed to reach a plateau of cases, which other regions did not manage to do.
“That geographical coherence is quite important. From that point of view it probably makes sense for us to act together rather than separately.
“Talking to colleagues across the rest of the country, they’ve seen Covid spread across boundaries. I had a conversation with the director of public health in Birmingham, who had seen how cases had spread from Solihull across the border.
“That pattern of spread through natural communities is the thing we need to look at. Covid is not going to obey administrative boundaries, we have to think about the way people move and how risk occurs because of that.”
Richard Holden, Conservative MP for North West Durham, told Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Thursday, December 17, that he should ignore local authorities, and take the county out of Tier 3 even if the rest of the region stays in.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Holden asked: “Will he commit to a fortnightly review, and will he ignore the LA7 and allow County Durham, perhaps parts of County Durham, to go a separate way if case rates come down in the future?”
Mr Hancock replied: “The truth is in County Durham, we do look at County Durham on its merits, on its own, as well of course as part of the other North East local authorities, and people in County Durham have been acting in a way that gets the case rates down. I’m very grateful to them for doing that. We’re not quite there yet.”
Mr Hancock announced the North East will remain in Tier 3 until the next review.