Leaders call for more support while welcoming cautious approach to easing of lockdown
Joint statement from the seven council Leaders and Mayor, North of Tyne Mayor, and Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner:
The government's announcement of a cautious approach to easing lockdown is sensible but it needs to be kept under constant review.
We understand the desire of businesses and our residents to see restrictions lifted so we can get back to something like normality.
But while the infection rates continue to fall, they remain high, with many people still in hospital and too many of those are sadly still dying as a result of COVID 19.
The threat of new variants is something we are all wary of so as the vaccination programme continues, we all must remain vigilant and continue to follow simple the rules we have become used to.
Our immediate focus is to do everything we can to support our schools to fully reopen on March 8.
It is important to remember all our school staff have been working hard throughout the pandemic, teaching vulnerable children and those of key workers face-to-face while providing resources and online lessons for those at home.
They have done a magnificent job in the most trying of circumstances, as have parents and carers who have home-schooled their children and we must do everything we can to support a safe return to the classroom.
Many of us have missed physical social contact so the opportunity to hold the hand of a loved one while visiting them in a care home or meet outdoors with one other person for a chat is a welcome step forward, with the prospect of wider meetings and outdoor sports resuming on March 29, but again only if the conditions are right.
What is certain is further delay to the reopening of non-essential retail until at least the end of next month and beyond for hospitality, leisure, tourism and our cultural venues.
While this cautious approach is the right one, the Chancellor has an opportunity in his Budget next week to widen the packages of support to these businesses and communities- along with support for individuals who have to self-isolate.
Not to do so will lead to much higher costs in the longer term of businesses closing, higher unemployment, a greater risk to public safety and more people struggling both financially and with their mental health.
We also need greater clarification as to how we will control future outbreaks. Unless Test, Trace and Isolate are all strengthened further and businesses in areas affected are given full financial support, adherence and compliance will be undermined because people will fear losing out financially.
What today's announcement doesn't change for now is the need to stay at home and only go out for essential reasons, including staying local when exercising, maintaining social distancing at all times, wearing face coverings and continuing to regularly wash our hands.
We urge everyone to take up the vaccine when offered and to those in the priority groups who may still not have had their first dose to come forward. There is growing evidence that the vaccines are highly effective in protecting our communities from COVID, having a significant impact on the risk of serious illness and reducing the risk of infection, giving us great reason to be optimistic.
In the meantime, we continue to be in regular dialogue with government, the region's MPs, and other partners to secure the best possible deal for the North East as part of the levelling up agenda.
We have lived with restrictions for almost a year now - there are still a tough few weeks ahead - but thanks to the incredible efforts of our NHS, key workers, volunteers and the North East public we are as close as we have been since this pandemic began to finding a way through it.
Let's not blow it now. Thank you for everything you are doing to beat Covid.
Cllr Simon Henig CBE, Leader, Durham County Council
Cllr Martin Gannon, Leader, Gateshead Council
Cllr Nick Forbes CBE, Leader, Newcastle City Council
Norma Redfearn CBE, Elected Mayor, North Tyneside Council
Cllr Glen Sanderson, Leader, Northumberland County Council
Cllr Tracey Dixon, Leader, South Tyneside Council
Cllr Graeme Miller, Leader, Sunderland City Council
Jamie Driscoll, North of Tyne Mayor
Kim McGuinness, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner