Thanks to high vaccination coverage in the North East, which is protecting tens of thousands of people from severe illness, hospitalisation or even death, we are in a very different place to when the pandemic began. However, we appreciate that while the removal of restrictions on 1 April might have been welcomed by some, it will cause worry to others.
As we adapt to living with COVID, we should follow simple public health advice to help keep ourselves and others as safe as possible, especially those most at risk. We stood together as one North East community throughout this pandemic, and we must all continue to do our bit. We have seen an increase in cases recently and we should not drop our guard and assume the virus has gone away.
Standard public health advice for all significant and transmissible infections is to try to avoid contact with others – and we should treat COVID-19 in the same way. Those who do not feel well, should try to stay at home, and those unable to do so please consider taking precautions, such as avoiding those who may be more vulnerable and wearing face coverings.
If you’re unsure of the symptoms, you can check the up-to-date list on the NHS website and bear in mind that symptoms can feel very similar to colds or flu.
As we have always said, the vaccine will always be our best defence against the virus, and it is strongly recommended that everyone eligible should get it if you haven’t already, and any future boosters. Every person who gets vaccinated adds another layer of protection to our region.
Measures we have become accustomed to – like wearing a face covering in crowded indoor spaces and health and social care settings, ventilating rooms, practising good respiratory hygiene, and washing hands thoroughly and regularly – will continue to be sensible and effective in protecting you not only from COVID but other illnesses as well.
The next step for us, as Directors of Public Health, is helping our communities to live safely – especially those most vulnerable – responding to any variants and subsequent surges in infection rates, and to focus on what we’ve learnt over the last two years, so we are ready to react if the virus threatens our communities again.
The Government recognises that it could take years before the threat of dangerous new variants subsides and we will need to maintain contingency plans and our readiness to respond. Together, we will continue to adapt to changes, as we have throughout the pandemic, whenever we need to.
While there is no doubt about the direct impact of the virus on our region, we have at the same time been left with a legacy of new ways of working, strong partnerships, community spirit and new relationships across our communities.
The pandemic has highlighted unfair differences in the experience of health and wellbeing across our communities. We don’t think this is good enough for our region, so we are focusing our efforts, during this next phase, to reduce these differences aiming to give everyone a fairer chance.
We know how difficult the last two years have been for everybody, so to the North East – to each and every one of you – thank you for all that you have done and continue to do.
Our region has a reputation for looking out for one another and we’re sure this will be no different as we move forward together.
Wendy Burke, Director of Public Health, North Tyneside
Amanda Healy, Director Public Health, County Durham
Alice Wiseman, Director of Public Health, Gateshead
Lorna Smith, Interim Director of Public Health, Newcastle
Liz Morgan, Director of Public Health, Northumberland
Tom Hall, Director of Public Health, South Tyneside
Gerry Taylor, Director of Public Health, Sunderland