By Alex Metcalfe Local Democracy Reporter

Plans are being drawn up to use Middlesbrough Town Hall as a mass testing hub in the new year to respond to a “Christmas spike” in covid cases.

Rules will relax nationwide between December 23 and December 27 to allow up to three households to meet for Christmas.

But there are concerns about the knock-on effect this will have on hospital demands on Teesside.

A batch of 10,000 lateral flow tests have been sent to councils around the country – and the Government has promised to roll out a separate mass “community testing programme” in top tier areas similar to the model seen in Liverpool.

Council teams on Teesside are working around the clock to prepare localised testing plans – with Grangetown to receive a five day trial next week using quick-turnaround lateral flow tests.

South Tees public health team is lining up more work after Christmas.

Public health director Mark Adams told councillors how it was looking to roll out a similar testing pilot to the one in Grangetown in a Middlesbrough mosque in January.

And he revealed teams were looking at creating a large testing hub at Middlesbrough Town Hall in the new year.

Mr Adams said: “What we’re looking to do after Christmas is have a large testing site, possibly in Middlesbrough Town Hall, and then a couple of medium testing sites with one possibly in Middlesbrough Sports Village.

“We’ll then have smaller more local sites working with VCS (voluntary and community sector) organisations to encourage the take up (of tests).”

Chiefs are looking to aim community testing programmes at poorer communities after Christmas.

Figures presented to the latest Middlesbrough health scrutiny panel showed more deprived wards in the town have tended to see lower take up of covid tests.

Ladgate (16.1%), North Ormesby (14.8%) and Park End and Beckfield (14.3%) have seen the three of the top four highest proportions of tests coming back positive since September.

And there are fears low take up seen in some of the poorer parts of Liverpool during their mass testing programme will be replicated on Teesside.

Hopes of end to the crisis were raised this week with the first vaccines administered at James Cook University Hospital to patients over 80, staff and care home workers.

Mr Adams said this was “encouraging”, however, he added a note of caution over worries people would let their guard down on the back of the news.

He added: “We hear there is a vaccine and the end is in sight which is fine – but there is a fair bit of grind to get through before sufficient numbers of people are vaccinated to change the status of it.

“We’ll probably see more mass community vaccines in March or April time – and up until that point it will be priority groups.

“We’re probably looking at until early summer when we have the diminution of the virus because it lessens in the summer anyway and sufficient numbers of the population will be vaccinated for that to have taken effect.

“What worries me is the vaccination is here, and perhaps the thought that everyone is going to get vaccinated in the next couple of weeks – and that plays into people relaxing at Christmas because of the vaccine.

“There is a whole raft of things which potentially add to a bit of a toxic mix of messages that might make it easy for people to think that doing the wrong thing is ok because the vaccine is in sight.”