Boris Johnson has warned that the government will not risk another North East spike in Covid cases, amid calls for the region to be allowed to leave Tier 3 next week.
Latest figures have shown that the North East’s infection rate is now below the England average, ahead of a review on December 16 of the tier restrictions that are currently in force.
If the region is allowed to drop down from Tier 3 to Tier 2 restrictions, it would allow pubs, restaurants, and other hospitality venues to open before Christmas.
But on a visit to Blyth on Friday morning, the Prime Minister refused to say that the drop in infection rates here will mean people and businesses will be given more freedom.
He said: “We will do our best on the 16th, we will be as fair as we possibly can, but we can’t afford to let the virus get out of control.”
On a visit to the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult in Blyth, the Prime Minister added that he could “appreciate that sense of frustration and unfairness” over the level of restrictions still being faced by those in Tier 3 areas after the second national lockdown.
Asked if the North East would be able to exit Tier 3 next week, Mr Johnson replied: “I want to thank people in the North East for the incredible efforts they have made to keep the virus under control and to get the infection rate down. I really appreciate, the whole country appreciates, the sacrifice people have made and the difficulties businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, have faced.
“As a result of that effort, we can definitely see the numbers have been coming down in the North West, North East, Yorkshire, Humber and that is fantastic.
“At the same time, they are going up in other parts of the country. There is real success here, but real anxiety about what is happening in London, in Kent, and elsewhere.
“On the 16th and the days leading up to that we will be looking very carefully at the epidemiology, trying to work out in as fine detail as we can what our chances are of taking areas down a tier if that is sensible.
“But we will only do it if we think it is justified by the science and by the epidemic.
“I know that will be frustrating, particularly for areas where they have got it coming down but are near areas where it is not coming down so fast and they feel they are being unfairly dragged into a higher tier.
“I really appreciate that sense of frustration and unfairness. We will do our best to sort it out, but what we can’t have is another big spike in the coming weeks.
“I think everyone understands instinctively where we have got to in the fight. We all know salvation, the cavalry, the vaccines are over the horizon, they are going to be with us and are already being rolled out. But it will take time.”
According to data published by Newcastle City Council, the infection rate in the North East is now 144 new weekly cases per 100,000 people – below the national average of 149.
On the day that the North East was placed into Tier 3, November 26, the region’s infection rate was 254 per 100,000.
Unlike pre-lockdown decisions around local Covid restrictions, local council leaders are not expected to have a say on what happens to their region – with the process dictated by the government.