How bad is the coronavirus outbreak in North East England?

How bad is the coronavirus outbreak in the North East? Hospitalisations are still just 17% of April levels and deaths are under three per day

  • North East will face new law against socialising from midnight tonight, banning indoor meets between homes
  • Newcastle, Sunderland, Durham, Gateshead, Northumberland and North and South Tyneside to face rule 
  • Council leader in Newcastle said the restrictions had been sprung upon them when Government confirmed
  • Discrepancy in lockdown areas as Hartlepool escapes despite higher and faster-rising infections than Durham
  • Around a quarter of English hospital admissions are in the region, which has just an sixth of the population

The slim margin between areas put into new coronavirus lockdowns and those that are spared is laid bare by infection and hospitalisations data from North East England as local leaders complain of being plunged into Government restrictions by surprise.

Data shows large variations in coronavirus infection rates across the region and some areas which have been left out of new rules have cases rising faster than areas now facing lockdown.

It also shows that coronavirus hospitalisations across the region are at around 20 per cent of the highest levels during the peak of the pandemic, and deaths have remained remain stable at three per day or lower for 14 weeks.

Yesterday Matt Hancock announced that residents of Northumberland, Newcastle, Gateshead, North and South Tyneside, Durham and Sunderland would be banned from meeting friends outside their bubble indoors.

And while cases are highest in those regions, infections are rising faster in some areas outside of the lockdown rules than they are in areas within it. Local council officials are angry that measures are being introduced without them being forewarned.

Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees last week saw their cases-per-100,000 rise by 84 per cent and 71 per cent, respectively, but will not be included in tonight’s crackdown, while Gateshead, Sunderland and Durham will be locked down despite slower growth. Those areas do, however, have higher overall rates for the most part – although Durham’s is lower than Hartlepool’s. 

Across the country, hospital admissions among Covid-19 patients are rising to levels not seen since June, now with a daily average of 272, while the number of deaths are also creeping up with there now being an average of 30 per day after that figure fell to a low of just seven a day at the beginning of September.

Newcastle, Sunderland, Durham, Gateshead, Northumberland and North and South Tyneside will all have to face the new rule outlawing socialising indoors from midnight tonight

Coronavirus infection rates are rising across the North East with the numbers of cases per 100,000 people highest in South Tyneside, Newcastle and Gateshead, while rising fastest in Northumberland over the past week

Data shows there have been 491 Covid-19 hospital admissions in the North East in the past month, compared to 361 in the Midlands, 264 in London, 109 in the South East, 72 in the East and 52 in South West. Only the North West of England, with 552 admissions, has had more than the NE during that time

Revealed: All the areas of England, Scotland and Wales that have been hit by tougher local restrictions because of a spike in Covid-19 cases 

Seven out of 12 areas in the North East will be affected by tighter social distancing rules from tonight – Newcastle, Sunderland, Durham, Gateshead, Northumberland and North and South Tyneside.

The remaining five, including Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton-on-Tees and Redcar and Cleveland will escape the rules, despite Hartlepool and Stockton having faster-rising infections than some included areas.

Infection rates published by Public Health England last week listed Hartlepool as the second highest area on its places of ‘enhanced support and concern’. 

The town in County Durham has an infection rate of 75.1 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people, according to PHE’s most up-to-date data, almost double the 40.8 a week earlier.

Five out of the top six places on PHE’s list of concern are all in the North East – Middlesbrough, Stockton-on-Tees, Darlington and Redcar and Cleveland fall below Hartlepool. All are receiving ‘enhanced support’ but aren’t yet in lockdown.

All seven areas that will face the new socialising ban from tonight are already on the list of ‘intervention’ areas on Public Health England’s list as people have been advised not to socialise with people from outside of their homes. 


South Tyneside is currently the worst affected of them, with an infection rate of 177 cases per 100,000 people, which ranks it second worst in the nation.

Newcastle also places in the top 10, with a rate of 157 per 100,000, and the infection rate there has tripled in a week from just 52.6 on September 18. 

Bolton, in the North West, still retains the worst infection rate in the country with a considerably higher rate of 200 cases per 100,000. 

New lockdown measures risk lumping together areas that have a lot of people with Covid-19 and areas with fewer cases that are included only because they’re nearby. 

Hartlepool escapes tonight’s restrictions but its infection rate has risen by a greater margin than that of Durham, Gateshead and Sunderland, which are all part of the lockdown measures. Confusingly, Durham also has a lower total rate than Hartlepool does (75 compared to 59 per 100,000), although Sunderland’s and Gateshead’s are higher. 

The highest rate of week-on-week increase was in Northumberland, where infections rose 255 per cent from 22.5 per 100,000 to 79.9.

The data looks at the average daily rate of positive tests in the week up to September 25, compared to the week to September 18. 

It is not clear whether an increase in testing has led to higher infection rates for some areas – officials insist this is not to blame for cases rising nationally – but data shows that, in Hartlepool, the average number of swab tests being done each day has almost doubled in a month from 111 in late August to 291 in mid-September.

One MP warned last month that it was unfair to impose lockdowns with ‘broad brush’ tactics that could punish people in areas where levels of the virus were actually relatively low.

Speaking about the use of national restrictions more generally, Conservative MP David Jones told MailOnline: ‘I can understand that the Government has to do something, because there is certainly an uptick.

‘But it is not an uptick across the country as a whole. There are some parts of the country such as Devon, Dorset where there is very little virus activity at all.

‘So it does seem to be very broad brush… I would have thought something more concentrated would be better.’


Boris Johnson was ridiculed today as he apologised for getting lockdown rules in the North East wrong – hours after another minister admitted she did not know if friends could meet in pub gardens.

In a toe-curling episode that mirrored comedian Matt Lucas’s spoof of government bumbling, the PM floundered as he was grilled on how the restrictions work – suggesting that households could still mix in groups of six indoors.

To cap his embarrassment, Mr Johnson – who is due to address the nation at a press conference tomorrow with medical and science chiefs Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance – then had to tweet to clear up the confusion, saying he had misspoken and households will not be allowed to mix indoors, regardless of numbers.

The mess came after skills minister Gillian Keegan suffered a series of car crash interviews this morning, admitting she was unable to answer key questions over new curbs that come into effect from midnight.

Answering questions about the North East lockdown, Mr Johnson was challenged over whether he had a better grip.

‘On the rule of six, outside the areas such as the North East where extra measures have been brought in, it is six inside, six outside,’ he said.

‘And in the North East and other areas where extra tight measures have been brought in you should follow the guidance of the local authorities.

‘But it’s six in a home or six in hospitality, but as I understand it not six outside. That is the situation there.’

The blunder risks fuelling Tory discontent about the way the the coronavirus crisis has been handled, with anger that swingeing measures have been forced through without Parliamentary scrutiny and the economy is being sacrificed.

The government is desperately trying to soothe a mutiny among dozens of MPs who have lined up behind an amendment tabled by backbench chief Sir Graham Brady. It insists that a Commons vote should be held before any more curbs are put in place.

Earlier, Ms Keegan was asked whether restrictions banning households in the region from meeting indoors from tomorrow applied to pubs and restaurant gardens.

She said: ‘I don’t know the answer to that question’ as she admitted she did not fully understand the rules less than a day before they are due to come into force.

Labour pounced on the misstep and said ministers ‘don’t know what’s going on’ amid a mounting backlash over the Government’s latest coronavirus crackdown.

Newcastle City Council’s leader, a member of the Labour Party, has hit out at the Government’s decision to impose lockdown on the region, apparently without consulting the local authority.

Nick Forbes told local news site Chronicle Live: ‘While we have been in discussions with the Government on potential further restrictions the Secretary of State has once again stood up and announced the changes without telling us he was about to do so.

‘We want to work constructively with the Government but the way these measures are being communicated in the headlines and without detail does nothing for public confidence.

‘We have demanded clarity on the new restrictions, testing and support for those businesses most affected.’

The Prime Minister faced further backlash after he was unable to clearly explain what the new rules meant for residents of the North East when he was asked on live television this morning. Mr Johnson appeared to become confused when asked whether people would be allowed to meet friends in pub gardens.

The rules mean people will not be able to do this unless the people they are with are part of their own household or support bubble under existing rules.

Mr Johnson was slammed for failing to communicate this and implying the rules would not apply to pub gardens.

Newcastle Council leader Mr Forbes said: ‘You can’t just bluster your way through situations like this – making it up as you go has massive consequences, confuses people and undermines the very public health goals but local and central government are trying to achieve.’    

There are concerns that an influx of more than 60,000 students into the North East could lead to a spike in cases because they tend to live close together in large households, to socialise often and may be less likely to follow social distancing rules.

Durham, Sunderland, Newcastle, Middlesbrough all have universities and thousands of young people will have moved into the area in September.

Some 7,000 freshers have gone to Durham alone, ITV reported, with the university vowing to do whatever it can to minimise outbreaks of the virus. 

Students across the country have reported being locked into their halls of residence, raising concerns about the laws allowing coronavirus rules to be enforced.

In Newcastle and Northumbria, to which some 55,000 students have returned after summer, campuses have warned students could be expelled if they don’t follow social distancing rules.

Professor Chris Day, vice chancellor at Newcastle University, said: ‘[Students who break rules] will be subject to police investigation if it is serious enough,’ Chronicle Live reported.

‘It has been made very clear to them that they will also be subject to university disciplinary procedures,’ he said.

‘That can range from a small fine right through to expulsion. That has been made extremely clear to them.’

While cases are the easiest way of measuring how fast an outbreak is growing, statistics also show that the numbers of people dying of Covid-19 in the North East is now among the highest of any region in the country.

There have been 78 fatalities confirmed in NHS hospitals in the North East region in the past month – from August 27 to September 27 – which makes up 23 per cent of the total 342 across England during that time.

This is lower only than the North West, where there were 114 deaths in the same period.

For comparison, 67 people died in the Midlands, 35 in London, 33 in the South East, 11 in the East of England and four in the South West. 

Of only seven hospital trusts in the country that recorded more than 10 deaths during that time, two were in the North East region – in which the NHS includes Yorkshire – Bradford Teaching Hospitals (16) and South Tyneside and Sunderland (11). 

Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care, in North West England, is the worst affected NHS trust, and 40 people have died there in the past month.

Official Government data shows that there has been a small spike in deaths in the region but the rolling average appears to have started falling again since the third week of September, when it peaked it three per day on September 20.

There are now an average of two coronavirus deaths per day in the North East, compared to seven in the North West and 3.6 in the West Midlands. England’s national average is 10 per day, meaning the North East makes up a fifth.

Hospital admissions in the North East and Yorkshire are also among the highest in England, according to official figures. 

Around a quarter of all hospitalised Covid-19 patients in the country are in the region, which is home to around an sixth of England’s population.

There are 441 people in hospital in the North East, out of a total of 1,727 across the UK, according to the Department of Health.

And there have been 491 admissions there in the past month, compared to 361 in the Midlands, 264 in London, 109 in the South East, 72 in the East and 52 in South West.

Only the North West of England, with 552 admissions, has had more during that time. 

The number of daily admissions rose steadily from a low point of an average seven per day in August to 70 per day by September 26. 

This puts hospital admissions at about 17 per cent of what they were at the peak of the crisis in April, when a massive 402 people were being admitted each day in the region. 

It has surged from 47 per day the week before and 22 daily the week before that, showing increasing numbers of people are getting seriously ill with Covid-19.

This reflects the national pattern for England, which shows admissions rising from a low point of 38 per day on August 15 to 272 per day by September 23, the most recent data.


Britain’s second wave of coronavirus was growing at a faster rate than either Spain or France’s until cases started to dip again yesterday, according to official data.

Government statistics show the UK was averaging 5,816 new infections per day 20 days after first tipping the 2,000-per-day mark. By contrast, France’s rate after the same number of days was 5,783 while Spain’s was 5,157. Both European countries hit the tipping point over the summer, on August 14 and July 28, respectively.

And the difference in growth speed was the same when the population of each country was taken into account, with Britain recording the equivalent of 87.27 new cases for every million people each day, 20 days after the number rose above 30 per million.

The rate in France 20 days after it surpassed 30 was 86.33, while in Spain it stood at just 72.43. 

Both nations are thought to be several weeks ahead of Britain after witnessing their Covid-19 cases spike again in mid-August. Department of Health statistics show the UK’s second wave didn’t start to snowball until September 7.

Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock had warned earlier this month that they were fearful that a second wave rising in Europe would make its way to the UK.

A fall in the number of daily cases yesterday – when 4,044 were announced – has pushed Britain’s outbreak below France’s, although it continues to grow faster than Spain’s was at the same stage.

Warning that the UK was set to follow in the European nations’ footsteps, Sir Patrick Vallance – the chief scientific officer for the Government – said last week that the country could hit 50,000 cases per day if it didn’t take action. 

Comparing outbreaks in the UK, France and Spain based on the time since cases first passed 30 per 100,000, shows that Britain was briefly at the mercy of an outbreak accelerating faster than Spain’s or France’s. A downturn in cases yesterday in Britain means it is slower than France’s but still faster than Spain’s was at the same stage

Leading scientists called Sir Patrick’s doomsday projection ‘implausible’ because 50,000 per day would put the case rate multiple times higher than those. 

Professor David Paton, an industrial economist at the University of Nottingham, said the 50,000 per day would be a rate at least three times higher than currently being seen in Spain or France.

He told MailOnline at the time: ‘It seems a very strange scenario to present. ‘It’s not, as far as I can tell, based on any particular modelling… 

‘It [also] seems odd, to me, to choose to compare against France and Spain. There are other countries they could have looked at, where cases have been doubling every three weeks. Nobody knows what will happen to cases in the UK. Do they really think we’ll have five to six times more cases than France?’

Concerns festered, however, as the numbers of people being diagnosed with Covid-19 in the UK carried on rising in the days after the scientists’ conference.

During the course of the week between September 21 and September 27, the average number of daily new cases surged from 3,929 to 5,816 in Britain.

The numbers have fallen from a second wave peak of 6,874 cases on Friday to 4,044 yesterday, bringing a tentative ray of hope that new lockdown measures are working. And they are nowhere near levels seen during the darkest days of Britain’s Covid-19 crisis in March and April, when top scientists estimate more than 100,000 cases were truly occurring each day but many were never tested.

And the outbreak in Spain also appears to have slowed, with its daily average dropping from a height of 11,314 cases per day by September 23 to 10,920 at the end of last week. The Spanish daily cases for per million people has also fallen from 241 to 233. 

Madrid, at the centre of Spain’s crisis, has had to impose local lockdowns on almost a million people living in the city’s poorest areas. 

Cases are still rising in France, however, with the daily average now at 12,115 and the infection rate per million hitting 182 on Saturday. Average daily cases have risen by 2,000 in just a week there – from 10,116 on September 21, when the infection rate was 155.

In a bid to stem the surging cases Paris, along with 11 other cities, has put a 10pm curfew in place for bars and a 10-person limit on social gatherings.   

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