By Herbert Soden LDRS

A Gateshead health boss warned that household mixing over Christmas will “inevitably see an acceleration of cases again” as it was announced the region would be staying in Tier 3.

As had been widely expected, the region will be staying in ‘Very High’ alert Tier 3 measures despite a drop in virus infection rates in most areas over recent weeks.

Health secretary Matt Hancock confirmed on Thursday morning that Newcastle, Gateshead, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Sunderland, County Durham, and all of Teesside would not be allowed to relax restrictions yet.

Alice Wiseman, Director of Public Health, at Gateshead Council, said that while cases in the borough had been falling that drop has since slowed down.

And she urged residents to “make the right decision” this Christmas.

She said:“Since September we have seen cases rise rapidly in Gateshead, from a handful of cases during the summer to a peak of over 900 cases a week in November. The second national lockdown helped to bring cases down significantly to around 200 cases a week.

“This is thanks to the hard work of our residents to follow the guidelines, minimising households mixing and maintaining social distancing in public.

“However, we have seen how quickly the situation can change and whilst the drop is positive, this week we saw that drop slow down and cases are now plateauing.

“This causes concern over the impact of easing the restrictions for five days over the Christmas period. With households mixing we will inevitably see an acceleration of cases again in January which will once again place enormous pressure on our hospitals.”

A drop down to Tier 2 would have allowed restaurants to open again, as well as pubs and bars that could offer a ‘substantial meal’, and would have meant that people could socialise in private gardens in groups of up to six.

The continuation of Tier 3 also means that football fans will still not be allowed back into stadiums and that entertainment venues like theatres and cinemas must also stay shut.

Ms Wiseman said that “one last push” would allow the region to have the best start in the new year.

She continued: “I know many people will be disappointed with the Government’s decision that the region is to remain in Tier 3. 2020 has been a tough year for us all and, in particular, for the hospitality sector who have worked so hard to adapt.

“However, this one last push will help us to enter 2021 in the best position and is a sacrifice that will ensure that we will have more time with family next year once the vaccination roll-out programme is taking effect.”

Tier 3 rules will remain in place until the Christmas bubble period begins on December 23.

The tier system will then return on December 28, once the five-day Christmas relaxation ends.

There had been calls for areas across the North of England where the number of new Covid cases has fallen to be allowed to leave Tier 3 this Saturday, when any changes to the tier system will come into force.

Ms Wiseman added: “I would also urge residents to make the right choices over the Christmas period. Just because the Government has said that we can form a Christmas bubble does not make it safe. If you do decide to reunite with your loved ones this Christmas, please be cautious and don’t forget the advice we’ve been following all year.”