“Today marks an important milestone on our road to recovery as we reach the first step of the Government’s plan for easing lockdown restrictions.
“Our children and young people have lost months of invaluable time in school to the pandemic. This not only results in lost learning, but also time away from their friends, and the vital emotional and social development an education provides.
“Clearly this has been out of necessity and schools, children and their parents and carers have risen to the challenges presented by home learning incredibly well, and should all be immensely proud of their perseverance.
“Getting children back into school will present additional challenges with our already-overworked school staff now having to facilitate testing of potentially hundreds of schoolchildren on top of their usual duties.
“We all owe a huge gratitude to teachers and all school staff. They have kept schools open for children of key workers and our most vulnerable children during lockdown, quickly adapted to virtual teaching, and carried out their safeguarding responsibilities in the most trying of circumstances.
“We will continue to support our amazing schools through the difficult weeks and months ahead as they continue their outstanding work to support young people across our region and help them grow.
“But today is not only about schools. The social care sector has certainly endured more than its share of pain at the hands of Covid-19. By providing care for some of our most vulnerable residents, care homes have experienced loss and tragedy on an almighty scale.
“That residents can be reunited with a chosen loved one from today is a most welcome step, and will be a relief to all those who can once again hold the hand of a relative.
“We must also pay our thanks to all those who have continued to provide compassionate care and support to others during the pandemic, these actions have not gone unnoticed and will not be forgotten.
“March 8 also brings about the first easing of social contact restrictions where people can leave home for recreation and exercise with their household or support bubble or one person from outside their household, but we must all remember that Covid remains a huge threat to our communities and we can not afford to let our guard down. Please continue to follow the rules, maintain the Hands, Face, Space guidance and if we carry on working together, we can collectively take the next step towards normality on March 29. Thank You.
Cllr Simon Henig CBE, 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