It has been fantastic to see our cities, towns, coast and countryside buzzing with activity in the glorious weather we have enjoyed in the past week.
The atmosphere has been tremendous and businesses have been able to showcase the innovative way they have used outside space, along with reaping the rewards of their efforts to ensure their internal space is Covid-secure.
The fact we have been able to enjoy this less restrictive way of life is down to the hard work and efforts of every single person in the North East who continue to do their bit.
As expected though, these freedoms come with risks and as we have seen in the past couple of weeks those risks are heightened by the presence of the variant first discovered in India, now called the delta variant.
We currently have 149 cases of the delta variant across the North East’s 12 local authority areas – an increase of 68 on the previous week – and while we have seen surge testing, surge vaccinations and increased communications support in those areas most-affected – it is vital we all continue to follow the rules to try and prevent what are currently small, controlled outbreaks from taking hold.
The good news is all the evidence points to the vaccination programme working. We are seeing far fewer hospitalisations and thankfully very few deaths, but we know there is some way to go before we get to a position where we can live more freely with the virus.
Our residents have been vaccinated in their droves and take up is high but it is important those who may still have questions, worries or concerns speak to health professionals or visit beatcovidne.co.uk where their questions will be answered.
We need everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated to come forward not only for their first jab but also their second dose to afford themselves, their family, friends and communities the maximum protection.
In order to continue enjoying freedoms, at least in the short term, testing is also an important tool in quickly identifying anyone with or without symptoms in danger of spreading the virus so we would encourage everyone to take up the offer of regular testing.
As we approach a decision on the final step of the Roadmap we cannot stress enough how important it is for us all to keep following the rules.
It is particularly important that we exercise caution when mixing indoors where the virus can spread more easily – socialising outside remains the safer option. Our Public Health teams, working alongside NHS Test and Trace, have contacted hundreds of people following the recent outbreaks, offering advice and support as they self-isolate.
If the data suggests it is too risky to relax restrictions further on 21 June then so be it. Far better to pause than rush ahead and risk a further damaging exponential rise in the virus, a further lockdown and the terrible impact that will have on people’s health, wellbeing and the economy.
This region has lived with restrictions longer than most but you have all responded magnificently to the challenge. We have been heartened by the way communities have come together to support each other – businesses, volunteers, residents all working through the difficulties together.
We are determined to keep the North East open, protect our NHS and support our recovery from the pandemic and we are relying on you to allow us to do so.
We have worked too hard to fall at the final hurdle.
Please remember – hands, face, space and fresh air. Get your jabs, test and self isolate where required and hopefully we can see further restrictions lifted later this month. Thank you.
Cllr Amanda Hopgood, Leader, Durham County Council
Cllr Martin Gannon, Leader, Gateshead Council
Cllr Nick Forbes CBE, Leader, Newcastle City Council
Norma Redfearn CBE, Elected Mayor, North Tyneside Council
Cllr Glen Sanderson, Leader, Northumberland County Council
Cllr Tracey Dixon, Leader, South Tyneside Council
Cllr Graeme Miller, Leader, Sunderland City Council
Jamie Driscoll, North of Tyne Mayor
Kim McGuinness, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner