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Just behind Littlehaven beach, as dog walkers and holidaymakers walk along the promenade, a steady stream of people are being handed testing kits at a Covid mobile testing unit.
The large van, manned by about six people in hi-vis vests, has been at the seafront car park since the early morning, on a day when the area and those surrounding it are facing the strictest measures imposed since the UK eased out of nationwide lockdown.
South Tyneside has the highest infection rate in the north-east, 16th highest in England, with 73.9 cases per 100,000 of the population. Nearly 2 million people are covered by the new rules.
Richard Ord, who runs Colmans fish and chip shop close to the seafront, says several factors have contributed to the rise in the area, including people becoming too complacent and others refusing to follow rules.
“We’ve had people in here refusing to give us their details for track and trace. It’s now law so we can tell them to leave, but it’s things like that which lead to higher rates,” he says.
John Bridge, a former hospital porter, arrives at the Harbour car park with his son, Martin. The father and son have driven across from Sunderland, about 10 miles away.
Martin, who works for the Department for Work and Pensions, was told to take a test after a colleague with symptoms tested positive for the virus.
The latest restrictions have not come as a surprise to John, who says younger people in the area have not been adhering to social distancing guidelines and pubs have also been flouting the rules.
“They just don’t care,” he says. “They know that they’ll most likely recover if they get it and they are not thinking about those that are vulnerable – it’s so frightening for older people.”
Both say they support the government’s plan for a 10pm curfew on nightlife. “I’m having to get tested here and not go to work and it’s my livelihood, all because the younger generation can’t behave themselves,” says Martin.
Shortly after the pair leave, and as people continue to arrive to get tested, just over the road in the car park of the Little Haven Hotel, about 20 men have gathered.
The men seem to know each other and eventually make their way towards the beach and promenade – walking in their large group with other beach visitors visibly surprised.
Marina and Eric Calvert, who have come to the South Shields beach for the day from County Durham, walk past the group.
“This is the first time we’ve been here since the lockdown. It was a very big group – we were wondering what they were doing,” says Marina.
Eric adds: “We are going back into lockdown and shouldn’t really finger-point but it’s been a long time since we have seen people, and [we’ve] only just started seeing our relatives, so it’s hard when you see big groups. We’ve also heard about illegal raves – people not getting the message.”
Gill and Andy Betts, both key workers, are also frustrated with those not adhering to the government guidelines. The couple have come across from the town of Prudhoe in south Northumberland, also facing stricter measures, for a day of sea fishing.
Gill, 58, a nurse in a GP practice, says: “This whole thing has been heartbreaking – we have tried so many times to get together for my mother’s 90th birthday but every time we’ve had to cancel and it’s all because people are not abiding by the rules.
“The sad thing is even now I don’t think people will pay attention to it. Close contact is what causes a viral load to spread, yet people are not social distancing in pubs. Maybe the curfew will help but I’m not holding my breath.”
Back at the chip shop, Ord pleads with locals to follow government rules to stop the spread of the virus, saying his business will not survive another lockdown.
Ord, who employs 60 people across two restaurants in the area, was forced to close for more than four months during the national lockdown.
“We have been through the world war and never had to close, but unfortunately Covid put an end to that record,” says Ord, 66, who has been running his family’s business for 50 years.
“Obviously, we’re not happy about restrictions coming back in but it is necessary to get on top of this awful pandemic.
“I just want to say to everyone: ‘Please, please just follow the guidelines – the sooner you do, the sooner this will be over.’”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘It’s heartbreaking’: South Shields faces up to new Covid rules | World news