THE Covid-19 death toll reached another horrifying milestone on Tuesday, when it was announced that more than 100,000 coronavirus deaths had been registered in the UK.

This is desperately sad and, like other MPs, I’m extremely worried about soaring deaths across the country.

When the Prime Minister says that his Government “did everything we could”, it shows a lack of awareness that is concerning and infuriating in equal measure. We know that the last year has been littered with mistakes from Boris Johnson and those around him – from the initial delays to implement a national lockdown; to the confused public health messaging, not helped by the PM’s chief advisor’s flouting of the rules; the encouragement of social mixing with ‘eat out to help out’, to the inadequate support for businesses and workers and the fuelling of a ‘feelgood’ Christmas, the Government has been playing fast and loose with this virus from the beginning.

Despite the Government’s bungling, there is hope, however.

The vaccines, developed across the world and here in the UK, are the light at the end of the tunnel. If we are ever to return to some sort of normality, they are the only viable answer.

What we need now is the most efficient roll-out of the vaccine that’s humanly possible, in order to protect our elderly and most vulnerable, followed swiftly by the rest of the population. In the North-East, that’s exactly what has been happening: our brilliant NHS teams have proved to be some of the most efficient in getting the vaccine out to our population.

The North-East, it was declared, had been the fifth most-successful region in vaccinating the over 80s so far.

Then came the sucker-punch: that precisely because of this success, our region was having our vaccine supply cut to allow others to “catch up”.

This prompted outrage amongst the public and MPs in the region. It’s incredibly frustrating to be seemingly punished for the success of our regional NHS and the hard work put in by healthcare staff in the North-East. The anger was only made worse when it emerged that there were certain parts of the country that were outperforming the North-East but had not had their vaccine supply cut – another self-inflicted wound, which undermines confidence in the vaccination programme and the Government.

And the question that continues to vex many of us here in the North-East, is: ‘Would the same have happened if, for instance, London had been outperforming other regions? Would they have had their vaccine supplies restricted?’.

There’s another important factor in all this, too. Health inequalities in the North-East have historically been some of the highest in the country. Those inequalities are driven by poverty, low pay, insecure work, unemployment and poor health caused by traditional, industrial employment. That’s why we have been hit hardest by this pandemic and why it is important that we vaccinate our regional population at pace.

Instead, we are now being held back – something that mirrors the Government’s approach to the region on a whole raft of issues.

If the Government wants to make “levelling up” more than just a slogan, it has to recognise the long history of neglect up here and start giving us a hand up.

L Mary Kelly Foy is the Labour MP for the City of Durham