The Chronicle

HEALTH CHIEF’S TIER FEAR

City boss not sure Covid sit­u­a­tion will im­prove enough for North East to move down a level in time for Christ­mas

- By DANIEL HOL­LAND Local Democ­racy Re­porter London · Liverpool

NEW­CAS­TLE’S pub­lic health chief says he “can­not pre­dict” whether the North East has any chance of escaping Tier 3 be­fore Christ­mas.

It was con­firmed on Thurs­day that the en­tire re­gion will be plunged into the strictest cat­e­gory of local Covid mea­sures af­ter lock­down ends on De­cem­ber 2 – mean­ing pubs, restau­rants, and en­ter­tain­ment venues can­not re­open.

And while in­fec­tion rates have been fall­ing sub­stan­tially here af­ter an ini­tial spike at the start of lock­down and a re­view of the new rules is due by De­cem­ber 16, MPs were re­port­edly told that Tier 3 is likely to stay in place here un­til Jan­uary.

Prof Eu­gene Milne, New­cas­tle’s di­rec­tor of pub­lic health, said that it was hard to know how close the North East was to get­ting into Tier 2 even though “things are go­ing in the right di­rec­tion re­ally rather well” – with no set of de­fined cri­te­ria for each tier pub­lished by the gov­ern­ment.

He added: “I read the story that MPs had been told that things were un­likely to change be­fore Jan­uary. I have not heard any­thing about that di­rectly.

“There will be a re­view for the 16th, but I can­not pre­dict whether or not we will be at a level that will be con­sid­ered Tier 2 at that stage.

“Prior to the lock­down, when we were at the plateau level that ex­isted then, we were not able to bring the rates down.

“I would be keen that, when we do move into Tier 2, we have other mech­a­nisms in place to help us stay at that level and drive things down fur­ther.

“The lower we man­age to get the rates, the bet­ter our case be­comes. But with­out know­ing what the gov­ern­ment’s thresh­olds are likely to be, it is hard to say whether we will be in that ter­ri­tory or not.”

Nick Forbes, the city’s leader, has also called for min­is­ters to pub­lish clear cri­te­ria for plac­ing ar­eas into the tier lev­els – af­ter crit­i­cism that some north­ern ar­eas appeared to be un­fairly tar­geted.

Parts of Northum­ber­land, for ex­am­ple, will be forced into Tier 3 de­spite hav­ing an in­fec­tion rate up to 15 times lower than ar­eas in Lon­don, which is go­ing into Tier 2. Ad­dress­ing the anger and con­fu­sion felt by many peo­ple, par­tic­u­lar in ru­ral parts of the North East, Prof Milne said it was “im­por­tant that we act to­gether” and that even where Covid rates are low it only takes a small slip to cause a se­ri­ous out­break.

He added: “It would be very help­ful to know what the lev­els are that they [gov­ern­ment] are look­ing for. “They are clearly look­ing at the over­all rate, the rate in over-60s, and the speed at which the rates are go­ing up or down, the pres­sure on hos­pi­tals, and the pro­por­tion of tests prov­ing pos­i­tive. “If you look at those, all of them are go­ing quite well – with the ex­cep­tion of the num­ber of pos­i­tive tests, which is still around 11% for New­cas­tle and the North East. That is still quite a lot higher than Liver­pool, which is down to 3 or 3.5%.”

Asked if the new Tier 3 mea­sures, which are stricter than those seen un­der the previous tiered sys­tem would be suc­cess­ful in cut­ting in­fec­tion rates, he said: “I am in­clined to agree with the chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer (Chris Whitty), who from the out­set of the first tier­ing said that the base level of Tier 3 was not on its own go­ing to be enough, and there­fore this stricter regime is likely to have more im­pact.

“I think by go­ing through the lock­down in ad­vance and then mov­ing into Tier 3, we put our­selves in a bet­ter po­si­tion to con­trol things.”

Things are go­ing in the right di­rec­tion re­ally rather well Eu­gene Milne, New­cas­tle’s di­rec­tor of pub­lic health, on the fall­ing coro­n­avirus case num­bers in the city

 ??  ?? Prof Eu­gene Milne
Prof Eu­gene Milne
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