'Stay safe or Sunderland could end up like Leicester' - health experts' warning as pubs reopen
Sunderland’s public health boss has urged people to stay safe this weekend as pubs and restaurants prepare to reopen under relaxed lockdown rules.
From July 4, Wearside’s pubs and bars will be allowed to welcome customers for the first time since lockdown began.
The move follows Government guidance for businesses to start trading again as long as they abide by social distancing guidelines.
Customers will also have to adapt to new measures from booking in advance where possible and one way systems to hand sanitiser stations and ‘table service only.’
While some venues in the city have confirmed they will be opening on Saturday, others have opted to wait until next week.
Ahead of the changes, Director of Public Health for Sunderland City Council, Gillian Gibson, has urged the public to observe social distancing.
And failure to do so, she warned, could lead to a spike in infections potentially triggering a local lockdown.
“My biggest concern at the moment is thinking about this weekend and particularly things like pubs opening.
“We know that if people go out and have a drink they’re less likely to be observing that social distancing. So that is really important that people continue to do that.
“As I have said before, it would be such a shame if having done so well over the last three months, we suddenly stopped doing that because we will just go back to where we were before.
“It’s really important we do that and I have no doubt that if we don’t we will see an increase in cases and we could be in the same position as Leicester.”
The public health boss was speaking at Sunderland City Council’s virtual Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday July 1, which was broadcast live on YouTube.
The comments came in response to a question from Coun Jack Cunningham about the “biggest challenges and threats” from Covid-19 at a local level.
Ms Gibson’s other concerns included people who haven’t been able to access health services during the pandemic, falling rates of childhood immunisations and the impact of a flu epidemic in the winter months.
“If we get a bad flu season alongside Covid-19 and other people coming forward who haven’t been able to access healthcare, then we will be in a really difficult position,” she added.
“Anybody who is eligible for a flu vaccination should come forward to get it, I can’t stress that enough, we really need to take that opportunity to protect ourselves as individuals.
“But actually also the wider health and care system which could end up being overwhelmed if we have both a big epidemic of flu alongside Covid-19.”
Earlier this week, the public health boss slammed ‘misleading’ reports which suggested that Sunderland has been included in a list of 36 areas ‘at risk’ of a local lockdown.
In a statement, Ms Gibson added that national published data showed there had only been two new cases of Covid-19 between June 6-23.
The comments came as figures by Public Health England, released on Wednesday July 1, revealed the city’s latest coronavirus rate – for the week ending Sunday, June 21 – as 1.8 cases per 100,000 of the city population.
This ranked Sunderland as 125th out of 150 upper tier local authorities and one of the lowest rates in England and Wales.
Leicester – which was put into local lockdown on Monday – is at the other end of the scale and its most recent rate stands at 140.2 for the same time period.
As the North East gears up for the July 4 weekend, warnings about responsible drinking have been issued by the region’s alcohol office Balance, health bosses, police and the North East Ambulance Service.
Consultant in Emergency Medicine at Sunderland Royal Hospital, Dr Kate Lambert, added: “With the upcoming relaxation of the Covid restrictions and the opening of pubs I’m concerned that there will be a lot of alcohol related injuries, which can be catastrophic for the people involved.
“Alcohol related injury risks put extra pressure on hospitals as they try to recover from the challenges of Covid-19.
“With lots of people out for the first time, it’s going to be hard for people to remember to do all the things they need to do to protect themselves from Covid, including socially distancing and being strict about hand washing.
“For some people it will be their first social event out since losing friends and family to Covid-19 and any celebration may feel difficult. We know that alcohol depresses your mood and worsens your mental health.
“For all those reasons the ED team would like to ask people to remember the Thursday night appreciation of the NHS.
“Show that appreciation of health workers and the other emergency services once again by looking after each other, drinking and partying sensibly and encouraging others to do the same over the days to come.”