November 26, 2020 @ 14:15 by Richard Dawson
The whole of the North East will be placed into the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions when the national lockdown comes to an end next Wednesday (December 2).
In a major blow to businesses across the region, the twelve local authorities that make up the North East – from Darlington through to Northumberland – will enter Tier 3 next week.
Local bosses have described the news as ‘devastating’.
The decision has been made because the region continues to have persistently high coronavirus infection rates, despite being the first part of the country to have restrictions imposed on it by the Government back in September.
Latest estimates suggest that 318 people per 100,000 have the disease in the North East LEP area, while 390 per 100,000 have it in the Tees Valley LEP area.
Under Tier 3 restrictions, all hospitality operators including cafes, pubs, restaurants and bars are required to close and will only be allowed to operate takeaway and delivery services.
Meeting other households in any indoor setting is completely banned and is only permitted in a limited number of outdoor settings such as parks, beaches, public gardens or sports facilities.
The ‘rule of 6’ applies in all settings where household mixing is permitted.
Accommodation providers such as hotels, bed and breakfasts, campsites and guest houses must also close as must virtually all indoor entertainment venues such as casinos, bowling alleys, cinemas, theatres, concert halls and museums.
The only major change from the current lockdown is that non-essential retailers will be allowed to reopen, even in Tier 3.
Certain leisure and sporting facilities such as gyms, sports courts, golf courses, swimming pools and outdoor playgrounds are also permitted to open providing they follow COVID-secure guidelines.
It is hoped that the region could be moved into Tier 2 in the coming weeks if the prevalence of coronavirus in the community continues to decline.
But in the meantime, for North East businesses who may now be unable to trade during what is typically the busiest time of year, the move into Tier 3 could prove to be a fatal blow.
Sarah Green, chief executive of NewcastleGateshead Initiative, said: “Today’s announcement is devastating news for the tourism and hospitality industry and unfortunately will signal the closure of some businesses, with many more now making the decision not to open their doors until Easter.
“Under normal circumstances, hospitality businesses can take up to 30 per cent of their annual turnover in the month of December and this cash is then used to pay wages through the quieter months of January, February and March.
“While we understand that these decisions are not taken lightly, these measures will have a major impact, with long term economic consequences, loss of jobs and the resultant effect on the mental health of residents.”
Jonathan Walker, assistant director of policy at the North East England Chamber of Commerce, highlighted the need to provide further support companies that have now been under restrictions for months.
He said: “Businesses must continue to receive the necessary assistance to help mitigate the cumulative impact of these measures.
“We encourage everyone in the North East to really pull together to ensure we exit Tier 3 as quickly as possible and to support their local businesses through this difficult time.
“It has never been more important for us to work as a region to get our COVID rate down, both for our public health and our economy.”
Adrian Waddell, chief executive of NE1, which represents 1400 businesses in Newcastle city centre, added: “It is enormously disappointing that Newcastle and the North East have been put into Tier 3 with all the restrictions that brings.
“This will be crushing news for our beleaguered hospitality and leisure sectors.”