Public health expert warns North East is just a small step away from new Covid outbreak and lockdown – Chronicle Live

The North East is just a small step away from a serious new outbreak of Covid-19, Newcastle’s public health chief has warned.

Prof Eugene Milne has urged people not to become complacent in combating the virus, after figures were revealed showing our region is thought to have the lowest R rate of infection in the country.

The public health expert has reiterated that “we are by no means in the clear” of the pandemic crisis and that the prospect remains of local councils having to re-impose strict lockdown measures.

Tougher restrictions were brought in for people in Greater Manchester, as well as parts of Lancashire and West Yorkshire, last week after a spike in coronavirus cases.

And a cluster of cases in Aberdeen this week, which has seen more than 100 new infections, saw pubs and restaurants ordered to close on Wednesday as the city went back into lockdown.

Prof Milne, Newcastle City Council’s director of public health, has now warned that there remains a very real chance of similarly drastic measures being needed in the North East if people do not follow proper social distancing and hygiene measures.

He said: “The people of Newcastle and the North East have done a tremendous job of bringing Covid-19 infection rates down through distancing and hygiene measures. Transmission continues to remain low in the region, but we are by no means in the clear.

“R values tell us something about average rates of transmission across broad populations, but as we’ve seen in Aberdeen, the change required to take us from the position we’ve achieved to an outbreak requiring more radical action is really quite small and can be the result of a focused chain of infection rather than a more general spread of disease.

“We must continue to be vigilant and carry on taking those personal actions that collectively can keep the virus in check.

“That means following the Public Health guidance on social-distancing, hand hygiene and face coverings, and immediately self-isolating and booking a test if you display any symptoms of the virus.”

Most recent data from the Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Disease suggests the North East is one of five UK regions where the R rate is below one, meaning that infections are likely decreasing.

It listed the North East’s suspected R rate as 0.8, the lowest in the country.

According to local authority-level figures calculated by the Press Association based on Public Health England data, the area with the highest rate of cases is Blackburn and Darwen with 82.2 new cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to August 3.

By contrast, Newcastle’s figure was 4.3 with 13 new cases recorded that week. That was up from 0.3 and only one case in the seven days to July 27.

Gateshead’s figure was 4.5, Northumberland’s 1.6, 1.4 in North Tyneside, 1.3 in South Tyneside, 4 in Sunderland, and 1.5 in County Durham.