North East lockdown: Timeline of the new Covid-19 restrictions
It has been a whirlwind few weeks in the North East’s fight against coronavirus.
The region has gone from having the lowest infection rates in the country to now having seven areas placed under new lockdown-style restrictions.
Here is a recap of the key dates and events that led up to the strict new rules being imposed on households and businesses.
We’ll start our timeline of the North East’s second wave of Covid-19 here, the day when Newcastle’s top public health expert warned that we were just a small step away from a major new outbreak.
That week, the region had been reported as having the lowest rate of infection in the country. But Prof Eugene Milne, the city council’s director of public health, sought to impress upon residents that “we are by no means in the clear” and that the shift in numbers that would require radical intervention was “really quite small”.
A number of new Covid cases are linked to the Stanley Empire Club in County Durham. Durham County Council later confirmed a total of 15 confirmed cases were associated with the club, with one man admitted to hospital, and sets up a mobile testing unit.
The pub was closed, along with the town’s Ball Alley, Phoenix Club and East Stanley Workingmen’s Club.
South Tyneside tops a watchlist of potential new coronavirus hotspots, according to the Covid Symptom Study app – which found that 0.23% of the borough’s population had symptoms.
The following day, Public Health England (PHE) data showed an almost five-fold increase in cases in South Tyneside – with 28 new cases confirmed in the seven days to August 25, 18.5 per 100,000 people.
As cases continue to rise, Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirms that South Tyneside has been added to PHE’s watchlist as an area of concern.
Data showed an increase of 78 cases in the previous seven days, which equates to 50 cases per 100,000 people.
South Tyneside Council warns it is the “last chance to avoid local lockdown”, announcing it will ask care homes to suspend visits and that police will step up spot checks at pubs and restaurants.
It emerges that a number of positive Covid tests have been linked to a charity football event on August 30 hosted at Burnside Working Men’s Club in Fencehouses, with Sunderland and Durham residents urged to get tested if they have symptoms.
Blyth Spartans also cancel a friendly match at South Shields just hours before kick off because of fears over the spiralling cases in South Tyneside.
It is confirmed that around 300 people have been told to self-isolate after 28 people tested positive for the virus following the Burnside football match. A further 33 positive tests were later linked to the event.
Seven local councils and the North of Tyne mayor issue a joint statement urging residents to prevent the virus from getting “out of control” and to avoid the need for a “devastating” second lockdown, as cases continue to rise.
The eight leaders slammed a “significant minority” holding house parties, having events with “unregulated” crowds, and ignoring social distancing rules.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces the new ‘Rule of Six’, aimed at curbing a rise in cases nationally and making Covid-19 restrictions simpler for people to understand and remember.
News breaks that Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland, and South Tyneside will be put on the Government’s Covid-19 watchlist as areas needing ‘enhanced support’.
Gateshead Council public health director Alice Wiseman warns that new restrictions “may become inevitable” if infection rates continue to rise, with the situation blamed on an increase in socialising both at home and in pubs and restaurants.
More councils also announce that care homes are advised to close to non-essential visits.
Figures show coronavirus rates across the region continuing to rise rapidly. There were 253 cases confirmed in Sunderland in the seven days up to September 8 – a rate of 91.1 out of 100,000 people, the sixth highest out of all local authority areas in England. Sunderland’s rate had rised almost 800%.
Durham County Football Association cancels amateur matches in areas placed on the Covid-19 watchlist until September 21.
Leaders from seven North East councils confirm they are writing to the government to request that tougher lockdown measures are imposed in Newcastle, Gateshead, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Sunderland, and County Durham.
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said there was “universal concern” about the continuing rise in case numbers and preventative measures were needed to avoid “a bigger problem down the line which could end up in a full lockdown”.
Meanwhile, Matt Hancock visited Shotley Bridge Hospital in County Durham.
News breaks that lockdown-style restrictions are set to be imposed across those seven North East areas – with the rules expected to include a ban on socialising with people outside your household and new limits on pubs and restaurants.
Matt Hancock confirms that the North East will be hit with new restrictions from Friday, September 18.
He tells the House of Commons that Sunderland now has a “concerning” Covid-19 rate of 103 positive cases per 100,000 people, with the number above 70 in Newcastle, Gateshead and South Tyneside.
Full details of the restrictions confirm that residents will be banned from socialising with anyone outside of their own household or support bubble in private homes and gardens.
Hospitality venues will also be given a 10pm curfew and are restricted to table service only under the law.
Residents are also advised:
Not to socialise with other people outside of their own households in all public venues; Only to use public transport for essential purposes, such as travelling to school or work; Take holidays only within your own household or support bubble; Avoid attending amateur and semi-professional sporting events as spectators.