A local council leader in an area with a rising R rate has branded new coronavirus guidance “reckless” - and urged central government to work alongside regional authorities when issuing advice.
Labour Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon urged people in the North East to disregard the new advice and to continue to “stay at home”.
The government has been accused of sending mixed messages and causing confusion over its stance on returning to work and other social distancing measures – such as meeting family and friends in outdoor spaces – after it unveiled its new three-stage “COVID-19 Recovery” strategy.
As part of his plan to ease the coronavirus lockdown, Boris Johnson advised that people in England who are unable to work from home should return to the workplace from Wednesday, avoiding public transport if possible.
But new research from Public Health England shows the COVID-19 R rate in the North East is double than that of London - with around 4000 infections believed to be taking place in the area each day.
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Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday, Cllr Gannon criticised the new guidelines and said: “Our message in Gateshead is for people to stay home.”
He added: “We haven’t got the same powers as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, we don’t have the same legislative powers, but if I did have those powers I would be saying I’m doing exactly what they are doing in Scotland.
“The R rate in the North East of England I’m told is twice the rate of London and we have significant numbers of deaths, our hospitals are still busy, so therefore I’m extremely concerned.
“I think what the Government is doing nationally is reckless. It may be OK in some of the leafy suburbs, it may be alright in some of the rural villages, but it is not OK in Gateshead.
“We understand our people, we understand what is going on here and I think we should advise our people accordingly.”
According to the latest figures released by PHE on Thursday, there are 9,352 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the North East – a rise of 94 from the day before.
In total 1,215 people who had tested positive for coronavirus have died across the North East’s hospital trusts.
Speaking to Yahoo News on Friday, Gannon said central government should ‘trust’ and collaborate with local government to address the link between social issues and rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the region.
He explained: “We have had a very good local testing regime in the area - however, I think there is sufficient evidence that shows areas that suffer from social depravation, such as high-density housing, low educational achievement, low income, joblessness - all the traditional stuff - there’s underlying health problems.
“It’s clear that there is some kind of link there between social depravation and the virus. The data shows the R rate in north east and Humberside is double what it is in London, and some areas could have a rate as high as 1.1.”
The Gateshead council leader warned against the government issuing national advice to cover all areas of England, continuing: “We have areas where the rate is not lower than 1.
“We have highly deprived wards and also affluent, leafy suburbs - so the data shows that you can't have one single piece of national advice to cover all areas.
“The government needs local knowledge and local expertise and that’s the biggest criticism. The problem is not party politics, but central government.
“You can’t direct these operations from the centre, whether its food supplies, PPE, testing - what needs to happen is a partnership between local and central government.
“We know our communities, they need to give us the confidence and resources - they need to trust and work in partnership with local government.”