North-East ‘likely’ to remain under Tier 3 as restrictions relaxed over Christmas

THE North-East will ‘likely’ remain under the strictest tier of Covid restrictions over fears that case numbers could rise as rules are relaxed over Christmas, The Northern Echo understands.

Government health officials are understood to have said that they will recommend the North-East remains under Tier 3 restrictions following a review of measures on Wednesday.

It comes as politicians in the region were last week at loggerheads over the suggestion that the region is dropped into Tier 2, where pubs, restaurants and cafes would be allowed to reopen.

SEE MORE: Labour MPs say Covid rates in Tees Valley ‘too high’ to relax restrictions

On Friday, the leaders from all 12 local authorities in the region, and the Tees Valley Combined Authority and North East Combined Authority Mayors, met with the Communities Secretary Rob Jenrick and Government health officials to discuss the tiered system.

But sources close to council leaders across the region last night told The Echo that the meeting had heard how health officials would be unlikely to recommend a drop in restrictions over concerns case numbers “could increase” between now and the date of the review, and that there was a real risk that case numbers could rise as ‘Christmas bubbles’ are introduced.

SEE MORE: Covid cases up in four North-East areas ahead of Tier 3 decision

Under the Government’s plans announced last month, up to three households will be allowed to mix for the five-day period between December 23 and December 27.

It means that those choosing to mix with other households will not run the risk of hefty penalties provided they meet in private homes and gardens, places of worship or at outdoor public areas.

But the sources went on to say that the current situation meant it was ‘likely’ the region would not see any chance of being placed into Tier 2 restrictions until after the New Year.

Latest Public Health England data, published on December 14, showed that four out of twelve areas in the region had seen a rise in the number of new cases in the seven days to December 8.

Middlesbrough, South Tyneside, Sunderland, Redcar and Cleveland all saw between a 2.1 and 15.6 per cent rise in cases, based on the week before – while the rest of the region continued to see a fall.

The Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen last night renewed his call for the Government to avoid focussing on the capital as he urged ministers not to do the “lazy thing” and keep Darlington and Teesside under Tier 3, if the data proves otherwise.

‘Ministers cannot do the lazy thing and keep the Tees Valley in Tier 3’

He said: “The numbers have come down because everyone has done their bit and there is an argument to be made that we should be moved into tier 2, but we must wait to see what the data shows this week before any final decision can be made.

“Whatever the outcome, Government must not just focus their attention on the situation in London this week. Coronavirus is impacting everyone across the UK, not just the capital.

“In order for people to keep faith in the tier system, each decision must be based on the situation for that particular region.

“Ministers cannot do the lazy thing and keep the Tees Valley in Tier 3 if the data suggests otherwise.”

In response, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “Tiering decisions are based on a range of criteria including how quickly case rates are going up or down, cases in the over 60s, pressure on the NHS and local circumstances.

“The Government will review the tiering allocations every 14 days and areas will move up or down the tiers based on these indicators from local areas.”

  • The first review is expected to take place on December 16, with an official announcement due the day after and restrictions in place from December 19.

The Northern Echo | Durham