THE Government has been urged to 'act' over the summer holidays to help curb surging Covid infection rates to avoid schools being overwhelmed with outbreaks.

A County Durham MP last night slammed a "one-size fits all approach" as he said the Covid situation in the North East cannot be managed from London.

Labour MP for North Durham, Kevan Jones said the Government now had the time to give local authorities more power to manage the virus as schools closed for summer.

It comes as figures nationally revealed more than one million children in England were out of school last week due to positive Covid tests and self-isolation.

Meanwhile, three County Durham schools were last week forced to shut early ahead of the summer break due to difficulties caused by Covid.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Broom Cottages Primary School, top, and St John's Chapel Primary School Picture: GOOGLEBroom Cottages Primary School, top, and St John's Chapel Primary School Picture: GOOGLE

Speaking to The D&S Times, Mr Jones said he was concerned by figures which this week revealed the North East had among the highest rates in the entire country.

He said: "What is needed now for September, is the Government needs to give the authority and funding to directors of public health to come up with localised plans.

"The failure throughout this pandemic has been to try and have a one size fits all approach from Whitehall.

"The Government have got to empower and use the experience of local directors of public health to work with local communities to tackle the virus."

Last night, the Prime Minister's official spokesman suggested there were no current plans for the Government to intervene in the high case rates being seen across the region.

Figures published this week showed eight of the country's ten areas with the highest case rates were in the North East - with Redcar the highest in England.

Meanwhile, official Department for Education statistics revealed an estimated one million (14.3 percent) state school pupils across the UK did not attend class for Covid-related reasons on July 15.

The statistics showed how around one in seven pupils had remained off, with figures up from 11.2 percent on July 8 - a record high since all students returned in March.

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Mr Jones, who praised the hard work from teachers, parents and support staff for their work in the past year, said such action was vital ahead of the new school term.

He said: “We have got time now to get that in place.

“It’s no good ministers making public announcements without these local strategies, and the government has got to fix the mixed messaging it is sending out.

"The Government has been irresponsible, the issue around masks has just caused confusion and that has led to people believing the pandemic is over, when quite clearly figures show that it’s not."

Describing the national effort of NHS Test & Trace as a "blunt instrument," Mr Jones said more localised control, including ability to increase testing in areas where there are outbreaks, should be afforded to directors of public health.

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In County Durham, three schools were last week forced to close early, moving to online classes just days before the term was due to end for summer.

Broom Cottages Primary School in Ferryhill, Forest-of-Teesdale Primary School in Barnard Castle and St John's chapel in Bishop Auckland had to close due to positive tests, and staff and students self-isolating.

Gill O'Neill, deputy director of public health at Durham County Council, last night said its public health team would continue to provide support to schools upon their return. 

Ms O'Neill said that Covid risk assessments and infection, prevention and control measures would to remain in place in September in line with national guidance. 

In response to the region's surging infection rates, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson suggested there were no current plans for intervention following a surge in cases as they said local directors of public health have the ability to tackle outbreaks.

The PM's spokesperson said that local directors of public health had been provided a "range of tools" to help curb the spread of the virus, although did not outline what they were.  

They said: “Local directors of public health have the ability to use a range of tools to tackle local outbreaks.”

The spokesperson added that local directors of public health and local councils are working closely with the Department of Health and other departments to ensure a "proper" response is in place.

Responding following the figures showing significant absences from school in the past week due to Covid, the Department of Health said face-to-face teaching remained its priority.

A spokesperson for the department said: “Our priority is for schools and colleges to deliver face-to-face, high quality education to all pupils as we know that being out of education causes significant harm to educational attainment, life chances, mental and physical health.

“As of step four, schools now no longer need to operate a bubble system, and from 16 August pupils will not need to self-isolate should they come into contact with a positive case, in line with the position for wider society.

“Where children have needed to isolate, they must be offered immediate access to high-quality remote education.”