NEWCASTLE, Gateshead, Sunderland and South Tyneside have been added to the Government coronavirus watch list as infection rates continue to rise.

It means areas of Tyneside and Wearside could be subject to local lockdown restrictions if people continue to test positive for the disease.

The addition to the watch list came after Newcastle City Council has raised the city’s Covid Control plan to amber following a spike in cases.

The latest test data shows an increase of 145 cases in the last seven days, which equates to 48 cases per 100,000 people.

More than 90 per cent of those who have tested positive in the last two weeks are aged less than 60, and almost 60 per cent were from the 18 – 30 age group.

Latest figures show Gateshead had 113 confirmed cases in the last seven days and an infection rate of 55.8.

Meanwhile, Sunderland had 244 new positive cases in the seven days to Tuesday September 8.

This equates to around 75 cases per 100,000 people, three times higher than the national rate.

There are no formal restrictions or lockdown measures as part of the 'enhanced support', but there are warnings that if cases continue to rise some local lockdown measures could be re-imposed such as restrictions on opening hours in pubs, bars, or restaurants and other venues.

Leader of Sunderland City Council, Councillor Graeme Miller and chairman of the Sunderland Outbreak Control Board said: "We welcome the Secretary of State's decision to make Sunderland an area of 'enhanced support'.

"At the moment this is about support for Sunderland, not restrictions.

"Yet, we are very close to a local lockdown if there is not a rapid and drastic reduction in the number of cases. The virus is spreading across Sunderland and we need to work together to stop it.

"It is very simple: The current situation is extremely serious and if more people do not take more responsibility and act more sensibly then we will go back into a lockdown. This is our last chance."

Sunderland has seen a rise in cases with many linked to pubs, clubs and bars. While the rise was initially seen in the Houghton and Fence Houses area, more recently there have been increases in cases in other areas of the city.

Actions being taken by the City Council and its partners include:

• Suspending care home visits to all but essential visits

• Visiting suspended on all adult inpatient wards at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust

• Increased monitoring of licensed premises and appropriate enforcement - this will be focussed initially on pubs, clubs and bars

• Local follow-up of cases to increase intelligence about how people are being exposed to the virus

• Engagement with stakeholders and community leaders to identify ways in which infections can be brought under control.

Additional national support may include:

• Priority for mobile testing units as required

• Priority for NHS Test and Trace call centre tracing resources

• Priority for test results and data sharing.

Gillian Gibson, Sunderland's Director of Public Health, said: "All the latest data shows how everybody - of all ages - must continue to stay vigilant, keep two metres apart from people outside of their household as much as possible, continue to wash their hands, get tested and self-isolate if you are showing symptoms.

"If there are more positive cases then we will look to further actions, such as other cities and towns have seen recently.

"It's a very straight forward message for everyone: COVID 19 is still with us and we need everyone to help stop it spreading so we are all protecting our families and friends."

Newcastle City Council is also taking steps to increase inspection and regulation of compliance in hospitality venues across the city, and is working with the universities to gain assurance in advance of the return of students to the city.

A Newcastle City Council spokesman said:“The strength of the city’s partnerships continues to be an important asset in the ongoing pandemic and the Council has worked closely with Northumbria Police to act against any licenced premises that is not sticking to social distancing guidelines.”

Since Licenced Premises reopened the council has issued 24 Prohibition Notices and undertaken 105 premises visits to actively engage with businesses to support good compliance with the latest guidelines.

Alice Wiseman, Director of Public Health in Gateshead, said: "This is an extremely worrying situation for the borough and, if the infection continues to spread, we are likely to see some form of local restrictions.

"We are now seeing cases in every part of Gateshead which shows that the virus is circulating in the wider community.

“Although, at the moment, we are seeing a rise in cases from younger people, none of us can be complacent.

“Once the virus is out in the community it can spread quickly, and we need to do all we can to keep our more vulnerable residents safe. We ask residents to think about their role in spreading the virus."

The rise in cases has been linked to an increase in socialising - both at home and in pubs and restaurants.

Alice Wiseman continued: "Nobody wants to see further restrictions but if this virus is not brought under control, this may become inevitable, further affecting our communities and our economy. It's in everyone's interest to stop the spread of the virus so we can see our friends and family and keep our businesses trading."

Gateshead Council is taking a number of actions to help reduce the spread of the virus including:

• suspending care home visits to all but essential visits

• increasing enforcement action with businesses where guidance is not being appropriately implemented

• an online system for residents to report any businesses for non-compliance of covid-safe regulations

• enhanced contact tracing to try to identify any hot spots within the borough

• increased testing in the borough with the introduction of a mobile testing unit and redeploying staff to support contract tracing

• increased communications and targeting areas at risk.

Earlier this week, Gateshead Council Leader Martin Gannon, together with seven local authority leaders in the region released a stark warning about the rises in cases.

Councillor Gannon, said: "We have warned residents and businesses about the rise in cases and this is our last chance to prevent a local lockdown. We are concerned about the number of cases linked to socialising and we need businesses to do the right thing. We are stepping up enforcement and if a business is not protecting their staff or customers by following covid-safe procedures then we will not hesitate to close them down. We will do everything we can to keep Gateshead open."