While urging the public to remain vigilant, however, they stress that “there is no clear evidence” that it is in our area just yet.
Public health officers for the LA7 local authorities, which include County Durham, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland, were speaking jointly in a December 21 statement headlined “Keep following the basics to keep the virus at bay”.
It read: “This weekend has seen our focus move to a new strain of coronavirus, which is being transmitted at an even faster rate than the original Covid-19 disease and we ask everyone to be extra careful over social distancing, social contacts and general hygiene over the festive period.
“While there is no clear evidence that the new strain is yet spreading in the North East as it is in Kent and the South East, it is very likely already to be present.
“It is important to remember that Covi-19 continues to be a potent threat in its original form and so this latest variant needs to be tackled in exactly the same way, with anyone who has travelled from a Tier 4 area being particularly vigilant to protect their loved ones.
“It is why we urge everyone to double down on what they have been doing so far to drive the infection rate down.
"Following good hand hygiene at all times, wearing face coverings when required to do so, taking extra care over social distancing – staying at least 2 metres apart – keeping all social contact to a minimum and staying in well-ventilated places.
“We should all act as if we have got the virus to protect ourselves, our families and our communities, particularly those who are most vulnerable, while doing our utmost not to place an already busy NHS under further strain.
“Anyone with symptoms should also book a test as soon as possible and follow the guidance around self-isolation until the result is known and thereafter if it comes back positive.
“The virus will continue to mutate and Hands, Face, Space is proven to be the best defence at least until the population has been vaccinated.
“We know how difficult this is, especially at a time of the year when families traditionally come together to celebrate Christmas.
“Our advice remains – just because the Tier 3 rules now allow three households to meet on Christmas Day doesn’t mean we should.
"If you do then you still need to do so responsibly, so please follow the guidance, make sure windows are open, keep the visit short and do not hug others outside your own household.
"A Christmas bubble should not be formed with anyone from an area currently in Tier 4.”
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