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Don't let your guards down yet, says mayor; WEARING FACE COVERINGS STILL A 'GOOD IDEA' AS COVID-19 INFECTIONS SOAR.

Byline: IAN MCNEAL and ALEX METCALFE news@gazettemedia.co.uk @TEESSIDELIVE

MIDDLESBROUGH residents have been urged to remain cautious and keep wearing masks as Covid infection rates in the town continue to soar.

Many remaining coronavirus restrictions will end on Monday, including the legal requirement to wear a face covering in shops, public transport, and other enclosed public spaces.

However, on Wednesday Middlesbrough's infection rate rose to 1,004 per 100,000 of population.

Mayor Andy Preston and Mark Adams, Joint Director of Public Health for South Tees, have responded by stressing that the wearing of face coverings still has a key role to play in stemming the spread of the virus.

And they point to the ruling by London Mayor Sadiq Khan that masks should remain compulsory on public transport in London.

Mayor Preston said: "I hate face masks, but I do know that wearing one limits the spread of Covid and saves lives.

"I also know how difficult the last 16 months has been for everyone, and all of us want to get our lives back to normal as soon as possible.

"But the virus is spreading like wildfire across the North East, and the data is still not clear on the impact that will have on rates of hospitalisation and mortality.

"Everyone here has done an amazing job in helping to keep this dreadful disease at bay, and I'd just urge them not to let their guard down until we know more.

"Of course it's vital that we get the economy back up and running again, but for the time being, I think it's a really good idea to keep on wearing face masks on trains, buses and taxis and anywhere where there are large groups gathered indoors."

Soaring Covid case rates on Teesside and more than 50 virus patients being treated by South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust has prompted concern about the effect the change will bring.

South Tees Joint Director of Public Health Mark Adams said: "Our rate is concerning, particularly given legal restrictions haven't yet been removed.

"Learning to live with Covid isn't the same as ignoring it, and I would encourage everyone to do all they can to protect themselves and everyone they come into contact with.

"Wearing a face covering on public transport and in enclosed public places is undoubtedly the reasonable human thing to do. You're wearing a mask for the benefit of other people.

"At the same time, hundreds of walk-in vaccination slots are available every week in Middlesbrough. We need all adults to be double vaccinated as soon as they're eligible."

Mr Adams has also raised that the relaxation of rules on masks will spark a "culture war" style divide on Teesside.

And he warned the councillors that the local health leaders had few powers at their disposal after Monday's changes.

Mr Adams said: "It's going to be very difficult. We're looking at what we're going to do around advising people.

"We're very limited in what we can do."

Mr Adams told councillors the worry was that in the past they'd been able to take local action - but wouldn't be able to after the next stage of the roadmap.

He said: "It feels in the next few weeks, we'll just be reporting stuff which is a pretty uncomfortable position to be in."

Later, he added: "It will probably be a little bit rocky over the next few weeks.

"Even down to the culture war type stuff of 'what are you wearing a mask for?' - I think there is the potential there for an issue to arise."

Those aged 20 to 39 in the town are seeing the highest rates of Covid.

Mr Adams also said on Tuesday that the impact of long Covid on Middlesbrough was expected to be "significant".

Infection rates in Stockton, Hartlepool and Redcar and Cleveland are also among the highest in the country as Teesside remains a hotspot.

In Middlesbrough areas including Linthorpe, Nunthorpe, Marton, Ormesby and Berwick Hills have seen some of the highest rates of infection.

Ingleby Barwick, in Stockton borough, Dormanstown, in Redcar and Cleveland and Seaton Carew in Hartlepool have also seen case numbers soar.

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Author:IAN MCNEAL and ALEX METCALFE news@gazettemedia.co.uk @TEESSIDELIVE
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 16, 2021
Words:704
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