Local lockdown warning as Newcastle health boss says there is a “real risk” of Covid infection rates jumping

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Newcastle’s public health boss has warned there is a “real risk” of Covid infection rates jumping over the coming weeks, after a claim that local lockdowns could become more likely through the colder months.

Professor Tim Spector, who leads the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app, has said this week that regional restrictions might return in areas where the virus is surging as flu season approaches.

Covid rates in the North East have begun to climb again and officials are bracing themselves for a new spike caused by the return of schools and university students, as well as more people going back to office working.

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Prof Eugene Milne, director of public health for Newcastle, said: “We know that lockdowns are effective at slowing the spread of Covid-19, preventing people from requiring hospital treatment and protecting the most vulnerable from becoming seriously ill.

“But we also know they are incredibly disruptive to people’s lives, they have a significant impact on our wellbeing and, without the right levels of support, are damaging to a wide range of industries.

“With the added protection of vaccines and with a significant number of people continuing to take the precautions of social distancing, face coverings, and hand-hygiene, we’re not at a stage where lockdowns are required at either a national or local level.

“But as we look ahead to the impact of schools and universities returning, and with more people going into their places of work, there is a real risk that infection rates will again rise.

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“None of us wants to go back to lockdowns if we can possibly avoid doing so.”

The city health chief added that it was “hugely important” for people to get vaccinated if they are not already, but that even then it remains essential to remain cautious.

He said: “Our best chance of avoiding additional restrictions is if we all play our part to minimise that danger by continuing to be careful, cautious and kind – maintaining those less restrictive precautions we have used throughout the pandemic.”

According to Newcastle City Council data, the average infection rate for the North East as a whole is 393 Covid cases per 100,000 people – up from 316 on September 1.

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Prof Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London, made his prediction on the return of local lockdowns after seeing cases in Scotland shoot up.

He said: “If we look at the picture across the country, you can see most regions are staying flat or declining slightly which is fantastic news.

“The only region going up is Scotland, and it’s high and getting higher, and it’s the highest ever incidence rate we’ve seen since we started collecting our records.

“It means we can’t be complacent and also means we need to start looking regionally, rather than globally, because each region will have different pressures on its health service.”

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He added: “Some sort of regional restrictions might be coming as we approach flu season in some areas.

“But I think it’s going to be a very different picture around the country.

“I hope I’m wrong, and this is a localised problem to Scotland. We don’t really understand why Scotland has done so badly recently, and this hasn’t had the same effect on England and Wales.”

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