By Herbert Soden LDRS

Struggling residents have been thanked for their efforts in bringing down the rate of coronavirus infections as almost half admitted they find it difficult to stick to social distancing rules.

Research commissioned by the seven North East councils reveals how people across the region feel about Covid-19 and local restrictions – with over half admitting that while they want to follow the rules, they “find it hard” to stick to social distancing guidelines.

It asked 500 residents from County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland how they feel about the current situation and what the impact is on their lives in the week that the region entered Tier 3.

It found that 71% of North East residents are “very worried” about the UK-wide coronavirus situation.

Meanwhile, over half of residents say they want to stick with social distancing guidelines but find it hard to and one in three find it difficult to keep to household mixing rules.

Over a quarter of residents forget to follow social distancing rules with 15% admitting to deliberately bending the rules.

The overriding emotion felt by residents is “frustration” with 50% feeling this way.

Because of this a major campaign urging people to “keep going” and carry on sticking to the rules has been launched.

It is backed by the seven local councils and supported by Northumbria and County Durham Local Resilience Forums (LRF) which includes councils, third sector, NHS, emergency services and public transport bodies.

With infection rates falling across the region and the majority of people adhering to public health and government guidance, the campaign thanks residents for all that they have done to support our communities and urges them to keep going.

Local people were consulted as part of the process and contributed to the development of the campaign.

Brenda Naisby,79, from Washington, was one of those featured in the campaign.

She said; “I’m on my own, in a bubble with my daughter. I have found the lockdowns very hard, particularly as I got to the end of the 12 weeks, the isolation was really getting to me. I wanted to hug my daughter and hold my grandchildren, it was heartbreaking.”

Despite the national lockdown lifting last Wednesday and Britain’s medicines regulator, the MHRA approving the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine people are being urged not to throw away all the good work by being complacent in the run up to and during Christmas.

Thank You Sunderland Brenda Naisby

Miss Naisby said she was “cock-a-hoop” at the prospect of a vaccine but warned that the virus is still a fact of life.

She continued: “I wanted to be part of the campaign and thank the people of the North East because I think as a region we’ve done so well at sticking to the rules, but we’ve got to keep going.

“I would rather take my chance with the vaccine, it could get us back to some normality and be a way out for us all.

“Things haven’t changed, the virus is still out there, it is still putting people in hospital and causing deaths until the whole world is vaccinated it is something we are going to have to live with.

“I’m 80 in February and I am hoping to celebrate with my friends and family and a glass of champagne. I really do hope that is possible.”

This was echoed by PC Amii Stewart, Neighbourhood Officer for Northumbria Police.

She said: “I wanted to be part of the campaign and thank the people of the North East because I think as a region we’ve done so well at sticking to the rules and slowing the spread of the virus but we’ve got to keep going. If we can keep wearing our masks, washing our hands and socially distancing we can get through this together.”

Amanda Healy, chair of the Association of Directors of Public Health North East and director of public health for County Durham, added: “I want to thank the people of the North East for all they have done to slow the virus in our region. Residents have continued to do their bit throughout the pandemic and the fact our infection rates are falling in all areas is a testament to the perseverance shown by our communities.

“But the research findings confirm that while people want to follow the rules, we all find social distancing in particular hard. Asking family and friends to socially distance for such a prolonged period is not an easy ask, but minimising close contact remains a huge factor in stopping the spread of the virus. The new campaign for our region comes at a critical time and reminds us all to keep going.

“The vaccine gives us hope but implementing the mass immunisation programme is not going to happen overnight. As Christmas approaches, it is time for celebration, but we’ve got to continue to exercise caution so that we don’t undermine all the hard work and sacrifice made to lower the R rate.

“Winter is the busiest time of year for our hospitals and Covid adds additional pressures. Not only that – by keeping going we protect our children’s education, our businesses, our vulnerable, the voluntary and charity sector and our NHS. By continuing to all do our bit, I hope we can return to some kind of normality sooner, rather than later.”