Yesterday I joined a zoom meeting with the Health Minister Nadine Dorries and Professor Peter Kelly, Director of Public Health for the North East, to discuss new measures which will come into force in our region at midnight tonight.
The measures have been brought in because covid-19 cases in some areas of the north east are now very high, especially in Sunderland and Newcastle. Although the rates in Northumberland are very much lower, they are rising fast so the decision has been taken to include our county in the measures in the hope that we can reverse that trend quickly.
I will be reviewing figures on a ward level and making the case for wards or areas to be removed from the restricted area as soon as possible. I do not want to see these restrictions in place any longer than is necessary and I will be pushing for them to be lifted as soon as case numbers start to decline once more.
The measures being brought do not constitute a “lockdown”. People will continue to be able to go to work, school, restaurants and cafes and go on holiday. However, there will be tighter restrictions on mixing between households.
- There will be no mixing of households allowed, indoors or outdoors. If you have a support bubble (where one person living alone is added to your household) or children under shared custody agreements, those arrangements remain unaffected;
- There will be restrictions on the “night time economy”. Bars, pubs, restaurants, cafes, bowling alleys, cinemas, and nightclubs will have to close between 10pm and 5am;
- The existing guidance that restaurants, cafés, pubs and bars should offer table service only, will now become a hard and fast rule;
- Only essential visits to care homes and hospitals will be allowed;
- People should not go on holiday with people from other households.
I do appreciate these restrictions will cause frustration and disappointment to many, especially as our part of Northumberland has low Covid-19 infection rates, however, I have every faith in the people of our county to pull together to follow these new restrictions and get these infections under control.
New testing facilities are being established across the county - please do apply for a test if you have a coronavirus symptoms (fever, new continuous cough, or loss of taste/smell). You can do that HERE.
Please also remember the basics of regular hand washing, wearing a face covering when in enclosed public spaces, and keeping a safe distance from others.
Below are some answers to the questions I am receiving. I will continue to update these:
Can I still go to work?
Yes, your workplace will be covid-secure. You can still go to work.
Can my children still attend school and nursery?
Can I still go on holiday?
Yes, you can go on holiday but only with your own household/support bubble.
Can grandparents offer childcare support?
Only if it is a single grandparent who is already part of your support bubble. Otherwise it involves a mixing of more than one household. Before today’s announcement that was only allowed with social distancing, which is very difficult to achieve for childcare.
Does the rule of 6 apply?
No, while these new restrictions are in place, you can only socialise within your own household or support bubble.
I run a holiday business within the restricted area, can I still welcome guests?
Yes, just keep following the original Government guidance on how to do so in a covid-secure way.
Can I still go to the pub?
Yes, but only with your own household and it must be strictly table-service only, as per the original Government guidelines published in the summer. Pubs will need to close by 10pm.
Why is Northumberland included in these measures?
First, Northumberland County Council asked to be included along with the rest of the north east in the present restrictions, because although our level of cases is slightly lower, they were heading in the wrong direction. We know that there is around a 28 day lag between infections rising and hospitalisations. Our rural communities, although they have fewer cases of covid-19, are much more vulnerable to the effects as a result of physical isolation, and we rely on the specialist hospitals in the south of the county should folk here suffer badly from covid. In short, if someone in Rothbury struggles to breathe as a result of covid-19 and needs to be hospitalised, they would need a spare bed in Cramlington. We do have cases in our rural areas, including Rothbury, Berwick and other villages.
I should also stress it is not simply covid patients affected by increasing hospitalisations. Some cancer treatment, major operations, care for the critically injured and ill cannot take place if the wards and ICU beds are full of covid patients. I was talking to a GP this week who explained to me there are some forms of cancer treatment that have been delayed since March because they need to be administered alongside immunosuppressant drugs. Those cannot be administered if our hospitals continue to fill up with covid patients once more. At the time of writing there are 50 patients in hospital in Northumberland with covid, and Alnwick Infirmary is closed to new admissions as a result of covid, so you can see how there is a knock-on effect on all the services we rely on, especially in our rural communities.
What if I want to ignore the rules and “take my chances” with this virus, the odds are I would survive?
There is no method of “taking your chances”. It is not a decision one can take for oneself during a pandemic, unless you entirely shield from society, which folk who suggest this are not proposing. You are going to come into contact with others who you may unknowingly pass the disease on to. They may have a vulnerable family member.
Many people have suggested they will be fine, they will take their chances with covid-19. It isn’t as simple as that. To start with, not one person has volunteered to die or to allow their family members to die. I know of not one person who, if they saw a loved one struggling to breathe with covid-19, would not call an ambulance. I want there to be an ambulance available should that happen. I want there to be an ICU bed available should you develop symptoms you cannot cope with. More broadly, I want there to be an ambulance available or an ICU bed free should you have a heart attack, or a stroke, or a brain aneurism, or should you be hit by a bus crossing the road. I do not want the medics to have to decide who will receive the life-saving treatment. If our ICU continues to fill with covid patients, it means other emergency treatments cannot be given.
There is no opt out. We all rely on our NHS to keep us all safe. We never know when we might need it. I want it to be there for all of us. This is especially true for our most rural communities. We ALL rely on special care beds for other emergencies too. I do not want residents in our rural areas to be turned away from the life-saving care they may need because the ICU beds are full of covid patients. So we must all do our bit.
I should also add that this is a new disease, the long-term effects of which are unknown. I can only speak from my own experience. I am not in a higher risk age group and I have no underlying health conditions. It has been 8 months since I contracted covid-19 and I continue to suffer the ill-effects of “long covid” some of which can be debilitating.
Can I still go to the shops, or hair salons?
Yes, these venues are already covid-19 secure.