More North East areas face being added to watch list in next few days as cases rise across region

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More North East local authorities ‘are likely to be added’ to the Government’s Covid-19 watchlist in the next few days, a health chief has warned.

At the Thursday, September 10, meeting of Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing board, director of public health Liz Morgan said that ‘a number of’ other councils in the region look set to join South Tyneside and Middlesbrough on the list.

“Durham and Northumberland are probably less likely to be considered, because our rates are still slightly lower than other local authorities in the North East,” she added.

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“But if things continue, we may well be in the same position over the next few days or weeks.”

Picture c/o Pixabay as cases rise in the North EastPicture c/o Pixabay as cases rise in the North East
Picture c/o Pixabay as cases rise in the North East
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The meeting heard that the region plans to introduce ‘backwards contact tracing’, which involves more in-depth conversations with those who have been contacted by NHS Test and Trace, so ‘we can get a much better understanding of where they’ve been, who they’ve been associating with’.

Ms Morgan said: “The purpose of that conversation is to find transmission networks, be they households or social/hospitality venues, to get a better understanding of the age groups, the geography, and where they’ve been in the past week before they became unwell.

“The value of that is getting some much more detailed information about where we concentrate our efforts in terms of interventions. So, if after a dozen conversations with a group of individuals, we find a certain venue is coming up as a common theme, we know we need to do some proactive work with that business or workplace.”

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The regional group of directors of public health has also agreed to work with Public Health England (PHE) to put in place a similar contact-tracing process which has been put in place in the likes of Blackburn with Darwen and Leicester.

The aim is that the local authorities will try to contact individuals who are not picked up within 24 hours by the NHS Test and Trace system.

“That’s quite a significant bit of work to put that model in place across the North East, but we feel that’s an important thing to do,” Ms Morgan said.

Councils are also going to take on the management of the vast majority of inquiries relating to schools, with PHE seeing a third of the 442 inquiries it received last week related to schools and that has increased further this week.

In common with the rest of the North East, there are increasing numbers of cases in Northumberland, although the vast majority are in the south-east, which is ‘probably not unexpected bearing in mind that’s where a larger proportion of the population live’.

There have now been 1,748 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Northumberland, with 56 over the past week and 90 over the past fortnight.

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“Bearing in mind at the beginning of August we had six or seven cases a week, that is a significant increase in the space of six weeks,” Ms Morgan said.

“Obviously you can’t draw conclusions from one week of data, but it is of concern to me that the average age is increasing because what we don’t want to see is the cases escalating through the age bands, as we know people who are older, are more likely to have long-term conditions and are at higher risk of consequences from Covid-19 infection, so we’re looking at that very closely.”

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