AROUND half of the region's Covid cases have been identified as the "more transmissible" variant, council leaders have said.

In a joint-statement, leaders in the north of the region warned everybody "cannot allow it to take control" as they said there was "still a long way to go" in preventing hospitals reaching capacity with Covid patients.

It comes as 17 areas in the region were yesterday identified on a Public Health England map as Covid "hot-spots" where infection rates soared above 800 cases per 100,000 people.

SEE MORE: These are the 17 Covid 'hot-spots' in the North-East

In a statement, leaders representing County Durham, Gateshead, Sunderland, Newcastle, North and South Tyneside and Northumberland, last night urged people to continue following restrictions.

They said: "As we enter the second week of the third national lockdown, we once again thank all residents who have done their bit by staying at home as much possible.

“These efforts, coupled with the widespread compliance with the tiered restrictions beforehand, means infection rates across our region are at a level that is much lower than other parts of the country."

The said the current case rate per 100,000 for Tyneside, Wearside, Northumberland and County Durham is less than 400, compared to a rate in excess of 600 per 100,000 for England as a whole.

'We still have a long way to go'

“The position we find ourselves in may be better than in other parts of the country, but we still have a long way to go and if we are to avoid some of the scenes we’ve seen in London and elsewhere with hospitals reaching capacity with Covid-19 patients, we must continue do everything we can to limit the spread of the virus.

“There is always a delay between the point of infection and people requiring hospital treatment if they become seriously ill, so we cannot afford to let our guard down for a moment if we are to save lives and protect our NHS services."

'More transmissible variant'

“What we do know is that the new, more transmissible variant of the virus now accounts for approximately half of all cases in the region.

"It is well known that this variant is easier to catch and spreads further than the original virus, so we must continue to be vigilant and act like we all have Covid. We cannot allow it to take control."

“For the most part, that means staying at home but for a few exceptional reasons including for exercise, shopping for essentials and travelling to work if you cannot do so from home.

"You can also leave home to seek help if you are unsafe or at risk of danger. But unless it absolutely necessary for you to go out, you should stay at home and deny the virus any opportunity to spread.

“As Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty outlined this morning, reducing your social contact with others remains vital and by following the guidance we can all do our bit to protect our communities.

"Stay local if you do have to go out and if you go somewhere that is already busy, turn around and go home. Less traffic on our roads and fewer pedestrians also reduces the likelihood of accidents and prevents further pressure on the NHS.

“Our police forces and local authority enforcement teams have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to engage with the public and keep us safe. By acting responsibly we can help them to focus on essential day-to-day work.

“The vaccination programme is now in operation and the NHS is working to provide protection to the most vulnerable among us and to health and care staff and this is going on at pace.

“We are working with our NHS colleagues to provide buildings and sites, support with staffing, transporting people to get vaccinated, traffic management, winter maintenance – we know our communities and will do everything in our power to support the vaccination roll out.

“Our region is showing that following the rules is effective for preventing the virus from spiralling out of control and we must continue to follow Hands, Face, Space, getting a test if we have symptoms and do everything we can to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our communities."