North East health chiefs call for 'respect' and caution as Plan B Covid measures come to an end
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs in the Commons on Wednesday that work-from-home guidance would be dropped immediately and rules on face coverings in classrooms would also be scrapped in England from Thursday.
Other measures including the requirement to wear face masks on public transport and in shops will end next Thursday.
The legal requirement for people with coronavirus to self-isolate will also be allowed to lapse when the regulations expire on March 24, and that date could be brought forward.
Public health chiefs serving North East councils in the LA7 group – which covers Sunderland, South Tyneside, Northumberland, Durham, North Tyneside, Newcastle and Gateshead – say coronavirus rates across the region have fallen considerably in the last week.
They added that data suggested the region had passed the peak of the latest wave of infections – but stressed rates in the area still remain above the national average.
In a joint statement released on Wednesday, the public health directors said: "Our NHS and social care services are continuing to experience pressure, both regionally and nationally, and we must continue to do everything we can to protect them.
"Our services continue to be under increased pressure from staff absences and seasonal illnesses that is a result of the pandemic.
“Thanks to the incredible efforts of all our communities, we are starting to clearly head in the right direction, although we still need our communities to take care of each other as we have done throughout.”
The health chiefs said people in the region had ‘responded brilliantly to vaccine take up’, including the booster programme, which they said has had ‘a significant impact’ on lessening the severity of symptoms of the virus for most people.
“Since the moment we started our vaccine programme we have said it is absolutely our best form of defence,” the statement read.
"That is still the case and we would urge anyone who has not been vaccinated to start or complete their course of jabs as soon as possible. It is the safest and most effective way to protect yourself from the virus and data shows that a large proportion of people who remain in intensive care are unvaccinated.
“Once again, we’ve shown our resolve in following the guidelines and restrictions to help protect one another and the NHS. We give our heartfelt thanks to all of you for all that you have done and the incredible sacrifices you have made.
“We know the end of restrictions will be welcomed by many, but may cause concern to others, so please continue to be respectful of each other and do your bit. Please follow the guidance on testing, self-isolating with symptoms, washing your hands, letting fresh air into indoor places, and consider wearing a face covering in busy or enclosed spaces or when meeting with people who you do not normally socialise with.
"Doing these things protects you and those around you.
“While the future is looking brighter again, please remember that we must remain cautious to continue to slow infection rates and ensure they remain low. We are in a much better place, but the pandemic is far from over.”