By Alex Metcalfe- Local Democracy Reporter

Relaxing the covid rules over Christmas have been branded “totally irresponsible” by a council leader amid fears of a New Year spike in cases.

Up to three households in a “Christmas bubble” will be able to meet across the UK between December 23 and December 27.

But there have been concerns from NHS officials on Teesside and beyond about the move bringing increased infection rates in January and more demands on hospitals.

Mary Lanigan, independent leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council
Credit Redcar and Cleveland Council

Cllr Mary Lanigan, leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council, said she believed the rule change would be a mistake at a health board meeting on 14 December.

The independent leader added: “I do think there is going to be a spike in January – I think that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

“And I think the Government has been totally irresponsible over what they’re doing here.”

Cllr Lanigan said most people where she lived had indicated they “wouldn’t be mixing” with other families – but added there had been “belligerent youngsters” unwilling to conform.

The council leader added: “We do have people offering quite a lot of abusive comments on Facebook saying “we’ll do what we want and don’t you tell us” – so, we can only do what we can do and hope for the best.

“The problem is these people being so belligerent about this are the youngsters – young men in particular in their 20s and 30s.”

Worries came after South Tees public health director Mark Adams gave an update on rising cases in Middlesbrough and flattening covid rates in neighbouring Redcar and Cleveland.

Mr Adams said the rise in Middlesbrough was being driven by 25 to 34-year-olds and shared concerns about this spreading into older age groups and hospitals in the coming weeks.

Despite a fall in infection rates during the latest lockdown, the public health chief didn’t think rates had come down far enough ahead of Christmas.

Mr Adams added: “The five days is where we’ll see families mixing and people staying overnight which will potentially mean if there is one person infected, most of those people will then be infected – so it amplifies the effect.

“I’m worried we will see the rate of increase we saw prior to lockdown where we got up to rates of 500 cases per 100,000 people – and the impact we then started to see on the NHS.

“January is one of the busiest months for the NHS anyway – and the impact of that Christmas period is going to be critical.”

North Tees medical director Dr Deepak Dwarakanath said he had grave concerns about the prospect of a third covid wave in the New Year.

National body NHS Providers wrote to Boris Johnson last week about their own worries about pressure facing the health service this winter.

Lockwood councillor Steve Kay told the panel he was unhappy with the Christmas five day break – with fears it would be a “free for all”.

The cabinet member for health added: “All the experts are now coming out to say that there will almost certainly be a further spike caused by this.

“I think it’s a national disgrace that Governments all over the UK have gone in for this strategy.

“It’s a strategy of disaster.”

Government guidance on Christmas states you can form an exclusive bubble made up of people from no more than three households.

It has also urged people to “reduce unnecessary contact” with people they do not live with as much as possible in the two weeks leading up to December 23.

In response to concerns about the Christmas rules, the Government pointed to efforts to increase testing capacity across Tier Three areas.

A spokesman added: “This winter we are providing an extra £3bn to maintain independent sector and Nightingale hospital surge capacity and a further £450m to upgrade and expand A&Es.

“We know that Christmas cannot be normal this year, but we have worked closely with devolved administrations to reach agreement on a single set of UK-wide measures to help people come together with their loved ones in a way that is as safe as possible.”