Northumberland pubs adopt safety first approach amid steep rise in infection levels
Covid infection rates in Northumberland have hit their highest level since the pandemic began - in the same week that restrictions were lifted.
The steep rise in case numbers over the past few weeks has dampened any notion that so-called Freedom Day on Monday would usher in a new dawn after the hardship of the past 16 months.
As a result, many publicans are keeping restrictions of some kind in place at their venues.
Jake Castleman, owner of The Pig in Muck in Alnwick and The Cock and Bull in Amble, said: “All our staff in both venues are continuing to wear masks, and we have carried on table service in Alnwick.
"I think it’s important as venues to not only deliver an enjoyable experience for guests, but also a safe one, given the rise in numbers.
“We’re finding in both venues that guests are still very cautious and are continuing to wear masks. I think we’ll continue along this path until the numbers start to fall.
"These are some of the busiest weeks we’ve ever had, so it shows that people are willing to get outside and support businesses, but in a safe manner.”
Many hospitality venues have also had issues with staff shortages, including The Plough in Alnwick which had to close its bar and restaurant last Thursday due to staff being contacted through Track and Trace.
"Unfortunately we don’t have extra staffing to remain open,” wrote publican Clare Iniesta on its Facebook page.
It will reopen on Saturday but will still have guidelines in place.
“We will still be sticking to some guidelines to keep our staff and our customers as safe as we can,” the Plough team posted.
Among them, its staff will continue to wear masks but customers will have the choice. Table service for drinks is coming to an end, although it will still be in place for diners, while bookings are still being taken for the time being.
The Blue Bell Inn in Alnwick also posted: “We have decided that for the time being it is going to be better for us to keep some restrictions in place (just for now.)
“We will be continuing to only offer table service, recommending people to wear masks and to hand sanitise upon entering.
“We totally understand that this is not what everyone wants but as we are running on a handful of incredible staff we need to make sure we are continuing to be extra cautious.”
NHS figures show a 39.3 per cent weekly increase in the number of Northumberland residents ‘pinged’ as a close contact by the Track and Trace app. There were 4,245 in the week to July 7 compared with 3,047 the previous week.
Latest data from Public Health England also reveals there were 2,217 positive cases in Northumberland in the week to July 18. The county infection rate is 692.2 per 100,000 population.
There are currently 20 Covid patients in hospitals within the Northumbria NHS Trust, eight of them on ventilators. One Covid-related death was reported on June 20.
Deaths within 28 days of a positive test: 698. Deaths with Covid-19 on the death certificate: 785
Total number of cases since March 2020: 25,108