PEOPLE are being urged to enjoy the further easing of lockdown restrictions responsibly amid concerns over rising rates of the ‘Indian’ coronavirus variant around the country.

Covid rates in the region remain low but with more freedoms allowed on Monday a common sense approach is advised to help people keep safe.

Whether it is travelling on public transport, planning a day-out or enjoying hospitality, Beat Covid NE is sharing the latest advice to ensure the North-East stays open as the region eases out of lockdown.

Amanda Healy, chairwoman of the Association of Directors of Public Health North East and director of public health for County Durham, said: “Covid rates in the North-East are slowing compared with the winter months, which gives us all cause for hope.

“But as our places and spaces re-open, we are urging people across the region to please continue to act cautiously.

“As the warmer months beckon, meeting outdoors, in particular, is one of the most effective ways we can help curb infections.

“If we want to see restrictions ease further in June, we must keep doing the right things now to look after each other.

“It is more important than ever that we all remember to follow the Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air guidance to ensure the North-East stays open. We simply cannot afford to take any risks, even if we have been vaccinated. “

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi urged people in the 15 areas of England with spread of the Indian variant of concern to follow local health advice, get tested and isolate if they test positive.

Asked if the June 21 road map easing, when all legal limits on social contact are due to be lifted, could be put on ice, Mr Zahawi this Monday’s reopening of indoor meet-ups “is still on”.

When pressed on whether the plans for June 21 could be paused, he said: “The way we don’t have to do that is by everybody doing their bit, by taking the two tests a week, doing your PCR test in those areas, and to isolate, isolate, isolate.

“We have got to break the cycle of infection, because one of those big tests was infection rates have to be suppressed, and the other big test is variants.

“If those cause a problem, then the tests will fail. The four tests have to be met for June 21.”

Mr Zahawi said the seven-day rolling average figures for infection show a 12.4 per cent rise, but hospital admissions are down by 7.9 per cent.

He said: “That is good news because it tells you that the vaccines are clearly working in terms of hospitalisation and severe infections… but the infection rate is what is concerning,”