North East leaders have reacted to the announcement by the Health Secretary that the region will remain in the highest tier of Covid restrictions.

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.

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.

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.

A statement by the leaders of Durham County Council, Gateshead Council, Newcastle City Council, North Tyneside Council, Northumberland County Council, South Tyneside Council, Sunderland City Council, the North of Tyne Mayor and the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner said:

While we accept this decision on public health grounds, we still need a greater understanding of how moving out of Tier 3 will be determined in the New Year.

We will continue to press the government for fair decisions and the right level of economic support – especially for the hospitality sector which has been so heavily impacted by the restrictions.

We will also work with ministers on how best to deploy targeted community testing to open up our economy, while seeking localisation of the national test and trace programme.

As leaders, we are incredibly proud of and grateful to the people of the North East for their efforts in following the rules, laws and guidance throughout the pandemic.

Their efforts have seen infection rates come down but sadly the virus continues to be a potent threat, putting pressure on NHS services, and we need to keep doing our bit to protect the most vulnerable in society.

We recently launched our Thank You communications campaign, fronted by ordinary folk from across the LA7. These are people representative of our communities, talking about the impact Covid has had on their lives and the efforts and sacrifices we have all made as well as looking forward to when we can once again do the things we love.

It is also a reminder that we can’t afford to throw away all the hard work when the chance of getting back to normal is within our grasp.

The Pfizer/Biontech vaccine is being rolled out into communities and this week we have seen some of our residents, aged over 80, invited to be vaccinated in GP surgeries, which is tremendous progress.

But this will be a long process and we all need to be patient. That is why we are asking everyone to carefully consider their plans and actions over the festive period. Just because the law says we can all meet three households over five days, doesn’t mean we should to choose to do so.

Increases in social contact and household mixing over Christmas could see infections rise steeply again in the New Year so we must act responsibly to supress the virus.

Of course, we understand people wanting to see each other but we also want families to be able to see each other and celebrate future Christmases, birthdays and family events.

For the sake of yourselves, your loved ones and the wider community please continue to follow all the guidance. Hands. Face. Space. And book a test if you have symptoms.