Health chief's plea as South Tyneside faces 'staggering' spike in Covid-19 cases to highest in country

Health chiefs have urged the public to take up the offer of vaccines in South Tyneside following a “staggering” spike in Covid-19 cases in recent weeks.

South Tyneside now has the highest weekly case rate in the country
South Tyneside now has the highest weekly case rate in the country

While the Government has confirmed Covid-19 restrictions will legally end on July 19, dubbed ‘Freedom Day,’ the North East has seen a surge in cases with many areas classed as the worst-affected parts of England.

South Tyneside now has the highest weekly case rate in the country, with the latest rate of cases in the seven days to July 8 recording a rate of 1,359.2 cases per 100,000 population.

Tom Hall, director of public health for South Tyneside, updated health partners on the situation at a meeting at South Shields Town Hall on Wednesday, July 14.

“The Covid-19 Leadership Board met yesterday as a result of the surge in cases that we have seen pretty much over the last three to four weeks in South Tyneside,” he said.

“The numbers climbing has been quite staggering, we have standing around about 2,100 cases in a seven-day period in South Tyneside which is a far cry from where we were only a few weeks ago when we were looking at much much smaller numbers.

“That gives us a rate at the moment of between 1,300 and 1,400 cases per 100,000.”

Mr Hall was speaking at South Tyneside’s Health and Wellbeing Board, which unites key health partners and organisations operating in the borough.

The meeting heard that the changing profile of Covid cases had predominantly been driven by the younger age groups, with rates in those aged 17-24 being “double the actual average for South Tyneside.”

Mr Hall said that business continuity “appears to be one of the biggest risks we have” due to the rise in Covid-19 cases leading to more staff being forced to self-isolate.

He added that the situation in schools was “quite illustrative of the whole community spread problem we have” – with most schools in South Tyneside either having a bubble or year group at home, alongside staffing issues.

These pressures have recently been reflected within South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust where a surge in Covid-19 cases coincided with a large number of staff having to self-isolate and emergency department pressures.

From today (July 14), the trust will no longer allow visitors into adult inpatient wards at South Tyneside District Hospital, Sunderland Royal Hospital and the Intermediate Care Assessment and Rehabilitation unit based at Houghton Primary Care Centre, in a bid to protect staff and patients.

Public health bosses and NHS chiefs will continue to monitor the Covid-19 situation in South Tyneside and have stressed the importance of taking up the offer of vaccines.

Matt Brown, executive director of operations at South Tyneside’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said that rolling out the vaccine to younger age groups presented its own challenges.

“It’s worth thinking about the vaccine programme in two phases,” he said.

“In the first phase in late winter/early spring we were still in lockdown and we were bringing mostly older people into the vaccine centres so we were able to deliver hundreds and hundreds of vaccines each day in each clinic setting.

“As we move into this second phase where society isn’t locked down and people have more choices, people are back to work, it’s more about us getting the vaccine out to people and having drop-in clinics.

“For every vaccine now we have to work ten to fifteen hundred times as hard to get it out to people, so rather than having hundreds of people at a clinic we’re going out to a workplace and might be doing ten or 20 vaccines.

“So we’re going to have to work really really hard and the main message from me, particularly for our younger residents, is to make sure you come forward for a first dose and particularly a critical second dose.

“We have done really well so far, we really just need to keep the pressure on that.”

Mr Hall, added there were still a “huge number of opportunities” for people to get their vaccine in the borough.

“It really has been made quite easy and quite accessible in terms of there’s no longer a need for appointments, you can simply drop in to one of the clinics,” he said.

“They’re not at the big centres necessarily, they’re out and about in communities, our pharmacies across the patch and our health centres are all running drop-in clinics at this point in time and that information is readily available on the CCG website.”

The public health chief confirmed there will be an “additional marketing push” in coming weeks to “make sure that people are aware of what’s available to them so that they do come forward to get their first or second dose vaccines.”

Drop-in vaccine clinics can be found on the CCG website: