North East council leaders held critical talks on Thursday to discuss whether the region needs to move to tougher Tier 3 lockdown measures.
There are now serious concerns that coronavirus cases, while they have levelled off, are still too high and that local hospitals could soon be overwhelmed.
Local officials now say they will discuss with government “what more needs to happen for infection rates to continue slowing”, with senior sources expecting that talks with ministers over a move to Tier 3 could happen next week.
The latest warning was issued by local authority chiefs in Newcastle, Gateshead, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Sunderland, and Durham.
Here is the statement in full issued by council leaders Nick Forbes, Martin Gannon, Glen Sanderson, Norma Redfearn, Iain Malcolm, Graeme Miller, and Simon Henig, plus North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll, and Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness.
They said: “The Leaders of the seven North East local authorities met today to discuss the ongoing Covid situation and issued the following statement.
“Since we introduced restrictions on September 18, thanks to the collective efforts of the North East, we have seen the rate of Covid infections slowing down but sadly they are still too high.
“Action taken locally in September worked and has helped us to remain in Tier 2. We have gone from being one of the areas with the worst rates of infection to being more in line with what is happening across the UK.
“Our Directors of Public Health met with the Chief Medical Officer yesterday (October 28), who agreed our region’s data was plateauing, but it is clear the situation the North East still finds itself in is concerning.
“In particular, NHS bed occupancy has continued to climb. Although we have not yet suffered the pressure seen in Liverpool and the North West, we have serious concerns that we could be heading for a strain on the health service just as winter begins to bite.
“We need to redouble our efforts to reduce social contact in whatever setting we find ourselves and we also need the Government to give us the support we need and have been asking for since May.
“We asked for control over test and trace, business support and greater enforcement powers which, had we had at our disposal we may have been able to slow the virus further. That wasn’t forthcoming.
“Our engagement with government will continue to not only focus on these areas but also on what more needs to happen for infection rates to continue slowing.
"Public Health remains our number one priority. We have seen a number of outbreaks in workplaces and with hospital admissions rising, all options remain on the table to protect the NHS and our communities.
“While thanking everyone for their continued co-operation, we urge everyone to look at what we are all doing on a daily basis to prevent the spread of Covid.
“Halloween cannot be seen as an excuse to trick and treat or hold house parties which could have devastating consequences.
“This is another critical point and we urge everyone to do their bit to help drive the infections down further and faster. We know it is hard and we thank you all for your efforts thus far but we must continue to wash our hands, cover our faces and maintain social distancing while following the rules which are in place to protect you, your family, your community and our great region.”