'Covid pandemic is far from over,' warn North East leaders after Government announces winter plan

Council chiefs have warned the covid pandemic is ‘far from over’ as they back jabs for teenagers and react to the Government’s winter plan for coping with potential surges in infection.

Mandatory mask-wearing could be returning in the winter under the Government's 'Plan B' (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)
Mandatory mask-wearing could be returning in the winter under the Government's 'Plan B' (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Sajid Javid set out how Ministers plan to keep covid it bay during the difficult autumn and winter months, when respiratory illnesses typically spike.

They also set out “Plan B” measures which could see a return to mandatory face coverings and a use of covid vaccine passes.

Now regional leaders on the North East’s LA7 group of councils – made up of Sunderland, South Tyneside, Northumberland, North Tyneside, Durham, Newcastle and Gateshead councils – have reacted to the plans.

“The Government’s Covid Winter Plan, as has been set out today, puts the onus onto all of us to do our bit,” they said in a joint statement.

“None of us want to return to periods of lockdown, and it is right that they be kept as a last resort. They have a huge impact on our wellbeing and restrain industries that are trying to get back on their feet.

"Our region is working hard on our economic recovery and we must all work together to keep moving forward and to prevent measures that could harm this progress.”

They added: “With the return of colder weather on the horizon, and children and young people going back to schools, colleges, and universities, it is essential that clear and robust plans are put in place to protect us from any significant increase in Covid-19 cases and the burden that would place on the NHS.

“While cases have remained relatively high, and consistent daily death figures have served as a sobering reminder that the virus has never gone away despite restrictions being eased in July, we always knew that the approach to winter would be a significant test.”

The LA7 said they were pleased plans had been approved for 12 to 15 year olds to receive Covid-19 vaccines. stating these are effective at not only reducing chances of serious illness, but also help reduce transmission – which could be ‘pivotal in helping to prevent outbreaks in teaching environments that could also spread to households and the wider community’.

They said benefits of these vaccinations for 12-to-15-year-olds outweigh the risks.

LA7 leaders also said they were ‘reassured’ that covid booster vaccines would be available for the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over the age of 50.

“The pandemic is far from over and the months ahead may well test our resolve to the limit once again. But as we have done throughout, we must continue to work together to protect our communities, support the NHS, and allow our villages, towns and cities to recover properly from this hugely difficult period,” the council chiefs said.

“We should all continue to be cautious, considerate and kind to others as we enter this next stage of the pandemic.

"Simple measures like maintaining a safe social distance and good ventilation, the use of face coverings, and regular handwashing are effective and helping to manage the spread of the virus.

"The fact the Government is holding onto the regulatory powers to bring back mandatory mask wearing and working from home show how essential those simple measures remain.”

The statement added: “Taking regular Lateral Flow Tests to spot if you have the virus without realising, and getting a PCR and self-isolating when required will also be key as we all play our part in keeping our region safe, our children and young people in education, and businesses open.

“But still, our best defence remains the vaccine. They have already saved tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of lives.

"They are readily available at vaccination centres, pop-up clinics and elsewhere. Please, if you haven’t done so already, make sure you come forward for yours and encourage every eligible person in your family and community to do the same.”