NORTH-East leaders have sent a strong message to Westminster as they fight for the region to be spared the strictest coronavirus restrictions.

The move comes after leaders of County Durham, Northumberland, Newcastle, North and South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland agreed to oppose any tightening of restrictions on a morning conference call.

In a statement they said that Tier 3 is the “wrong strategy” for the region and will argue the North-East should remain in Tier 2, with infection figures being closely monitored and an “intensified” communications strategy to “win public support”.

Gateshead Council leader, Martin Gannon, said that the leaders agreed existing measures under Tier 2, which prevent the mixing of households indoors and impose a 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants, were helping to stop the spread of coronavirus and needed more time.

In a combined statement the leaders said: “We took the decision early last month to approach the Government to ask for restrictions and resources to be put in place due to a worrying rise in the community Covid infection rate.

“While we welcomed the Government’s response, the package of measures we put forward to support this move was not delivered. Three weeks on, and there is evidence that the restrictions are starting to have an impact. Figures are moving in the right direction, with the rise in cases slowing and giving us cause for cautious optimism. We are concerned by the suggestion that a decision could be taken nationally to move our region into Alert Level 3, and we strongly oppose this at the current time.

“We are seeing evidence of a flattening of the curve and there is a collective view – shared by all the leaders, chief executives and critically our superb directors of Public Health that, with the public’s support we can make Alert Level 2 work.

“We’re appealing for the Government to work with us and give the latest measures sufficient time to work before they think about more restrictions.

"In addition, the failing test and trace system needs to be in the hands of the public health experts with knowledge and experience of local contact tracing stretching back many years. The local teams are already outperforming the national system."

Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston sounded a warning over Teesside being placed into the top level of Covid restrictions as crunch talks continue.

The independent mayor told a virtual meeting of the council this week how he feared Middlesbrough and Teesside could be swept up the move towards Tier 3. 

Mr Preston said: “We’re an area of extreme concern for the Government – our rates are high on a national level.

“But I would say our infection numbers seem to have been stable for the last six or seven days – which is encouraging. 

“A neighbouring borough with a much less Covid-sensitive demographic has overtaken us in infection rates – so that’s probably a small element of luck and great work by council and public health staff.

“What I fear is I believe there is a Government conversation going on in the background with the North-east seven, which is Durham up to the Scottish Border, and they’re being encouraged to go into even stricter restrictions in Tier 3.

“There is a real risk the Government tries to put us into Tier 3 – and we want clarification on that. 

“Assuming it’s true – and the information is from a good source – we need to have a really good conversation with the Government to see whether it is the right thing.”

NHS data shows Middlesbrough’s seven day rolling covid rate stands at 271.7 per 100,000 people for data between October 6 and October 12 – now ranking 27th in the country for its rate. 

Neighbouring Stockton’s rate is higher at 296.4 per 100,000 – ranking 21st nationwide.

Middlesbrough’s rolling rate from September 26 to October 2 was 221 per 100,000 while Stockton-on-Tees at that time was 193 per 100,000 – showing Stockton’s rate has risen faster. 

When it came to talks over Tier 3 restrictions, Mr Preston said it would back the move if it was found to be the right thing to do following talks. 

However, he shared his concerns with the virtual chamber given past experience over lockdown measures imposed in the town. 

The mayor said: “The fear right now is the Government has not spoken to us once in four weeks.

“No single junior minister, senior minister, Secretary of State or the Prime Minister has been in touch with Middlesbrough Council in any way – and it appears they want to make decisions and take decisions that influence our jobs and our health without any local input or knowledge.

“I’m very concerned about that.”

Tier 2 restriction kicked in across Teesside on Wednesday barring any indoor mixing of households. 

The higher Tier 3 restrictions mean pubs and bars must close, and can only remain open where they operate as if they were a restaurant. 

No mixing of households indoors and outdoors is allowed in the top tier – including in private gardens.

Mr Preston told the virtual chamber jobs in the town were his biggest concern – warning the financial cost of losses would be infinitely higher than the Government expected.