By Alex Metcalfe LDRS

A top health official says Teesside will probably remain in the top tier of covid restrictions in the run-up to Christmas.

The Government will decide whether the Teesside will move into Tier Two of virus restrictions when conditions are reviewed on December 16.

And politicians across the Tees Valley have sounded hopes that will happen to allow restaurants and more bars to reopen.

But South Tees public health director Mark Adams has warned Middlesbrough and the wider region will “probably remain in Tier Three” – pointing to “flattening” covid rates across the Tees Valley at a health scrutiny meeting on Tuesday.

Mr Adams said: “Before it flattened out I was quite certain that we could potentially head into tier two because of that really swift rate of decline.

Mark Adams, South Tees joint director of public health covering Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland. Credit: Middlesbrough Council.

“I think we’re flattening out at quite a high rate – if I was betting, I’d say we’d probably end up in Tier Three.

“But there are no thresholds published to say “if you’re above a certain number, you’re in tier three or below it, you’re in tier two” – so there is a little bit of guesswork in that.”

Middlesbrough rolling seven day rate of covid fell quickly from a peak of 506 cases per 100,000 people to around 170 per 100,000 up to November 27.

However, the rate has hovered around 170 to 180 cases per 100,000 for the past week.

And previously falling numbers of covid patients and those receiving critical care at James Cook University Hospital have plateaued in the past seven days.

Council figures showed 94 covid inpatients at South Tees Hospital NHS Trust as of Tuesday with 14 people in critical care.

A week ago the trust was treating 95 covid patients and 12 critical care patients.

The Government will use a number of measures to rule on covid tiers next week – including overall case rates, the proportion of positive tests coming back, covid rates among those aged over 60 and demands on hospitals.

Mr Adams told councillors how Middlesbrough’s “test positivity rate” – in other words, the number of people who returned a positive test out of all those tested – had fallen from a peak of 16 to 17% to around 7% today.

A presentation also showed how the town’s rates of cases in the over 60s had fallen from 400 per 100,000 people in mid-November to below 100 per 100,000 now.

However, the public health chief had some quiet concerns about hospital numbers and the flattening of the curve.

Mr Adams said: “The main thing to pick up is the red graph of numbers in critical care which have fallen but have started to stabilise at quite a worrying level should we start to see numbers pick up again.”

Middlesbrough Rolling Case Rate Up To Dec 6. Credit: Middlesbrough Council. Attribution required.

Chairman Cllr David Coupe said the figures weren’t as good as he’d hoped they would be.

“It looks as if we may well remain in tier three,” he added.

“I have noticed the figures have levelled off.

“We appear to have reached a point where we’ve reached equilibrium – and it’s working out what we have to do to get below that line.”

Last week, chief executive Tony Parkinson said officials were pushing for tier two in the town in response to falling rates.

On Friday, Middlesbrough mayor Andy Preston urged the Government to move the town towards the second tier.

Case Rate Of All Tees Valley Council Areas to December 4. Credit: Middlesbrough Council.

He said: “We need tier two restrictions to save our jobs, get our economy going and to get ready for a much better 2021.”

Cllr Matt Storey asked Mr Adams whether he was concerned about restrictions being relaxed on December 16 ahead of the five day easing of household restrictions between December 23 and December 27.

Again, Mr Adams said he believed Middlesbrough was likely to be in tier three – but added that a lack of thresholds offered by the Government meant his call was “a bit of a bet”.

He told councillors tier three would help “manage” and reduce numbers of covid cases as much as possible before the five day break.

He said: “You’ve mentioned the Christmas period and that’s my biggest concern.

“It’s how that relaxation for those five days could impact on community rates and then impact on the hospital.

“We’ve seen once it starts to grow in that way, it becomes very difficult to contain.

“My aim is to get it as low as we possibly can before that period and then we’re building up our capacity for contact tracing.”

The health chief added teams were working on stronger local contact tracing which would be much more effective if case rates were lower.

He said: “The lower it is, the easier it is to find clusters, jump on them, encourage people to isolate and prevent transmission.”

Teesside will find out if its covid tier changes next Wednesday.