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Life inside a maternity unit amid coronavirus

Coronavirus: The Durham maternity ward supporting mothers
The challenges of giving birth during the coronavirus pandemic have been laid bare by mums and midwives at a hospital.
Patients said they could not fault the care of staff at the University Hospital of North Durham.
It comes as the Royal College of Midwives has launched a campaign urging pregnant women to use health services if they feel unwell. 
Concerns have been raised that some women are too scared to go to hospitals because of Covid-19.

BreakingCummings 'might have breached lockdown rules' - police

Dominic Cummings' trip to Barnard Castle "might have been minor breach" of lockdown rules, Durham Police says.

But the force said no retrospective action would be taken against the PM's chief adviser.

A statement said: "Durham Constabulary have examined the circumstances surrounding the journey to Barnard Castle (including ANPR, witness evidence and a review of Mr Cummings’ press conference on 25 May 2020) and have concluded that there might have been a minor breach of the Regulations that would have warranted police intervention.

"Durham Constabulary view this as minor because there was no apparent breach of social distancing. Had a Durham Constabulary police officer stopped Mr Cummings driving to or from Barnard Castle, the officer would have spoken to him, and, having established the facts, likely advised Mr Cummings to return to the address in Durham, providing advice on the dangers of travelling during the pandemic crisis.

"Had this advice been accepted by Mr Cummings, no enforcement action would have been taken."

Dominic Cummings
WPA Pool

Council advises later date for school reopening

A phased reopening of schools should not begin until 15 June, Durham County Council has advised.

The government has said it intends for them to be reopened for early years pupils from 1 June, with "some contact" for secondary school pupils preparing for exams from two weeks later.

However, the authority is among those with concerns that key issues have not yet been resolved, and pointed to data showing the North East having the highest coronavirus infection rate in the country.

Olwyn Gunn, cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said: “We have at no point stated schools should return on 1 June.

"And in the light of the new scientific advice, high infection rates and the unacceptable delays in implementing contact tracing, we believe 15 June is a more realistic timeline for all schools to work towards, subject to government scientific advice and individual school risk assessments.

“Ultimately it remains a decision for schools to open when they feel it is safe to do so.”

Child at school
PA Media

Beamish Museum hopes to fully reopen in July

BBC Look North

North East and Cumbria

Staff at one of the region's biggest tourist attractions say they expect to be in the first phase of museums allowed to reopen when the Coronavirus restrictions are eased further.

Beamish Museum usually attracts about 800,000 visitors a year, but at the moment there are only a handful of staff on site.

Managers say they'll be led by government advice but are hopeful of re-opening around the middle of July.

Beamish deputy director Rhiannon Hiles told BBC Look North: "We're an independent museum so (the coronavirus lockdown) has a major impact.

"We have no revenue coming in at all, but we still have overheads, we've still got staff, we've got the running of the museum, even though it's closed."

1900s Town at Beamish
Beamish Museum

Mountain rescue team plea after group dispersed

After emergency services were called to put out a fire and disperse a group of people in the Breamish Valley, Northumberland mountain rescue team is calling for people to respect the countryside code.

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Barton: 'Cummings undermines police lockdown measures'

BBC Radio Tees

Police officers trying to enforce the coronavirus lockdown have had their job made a lot more complicated by the actions of Dominic Cummings according to Mike Barton, the former Chief Constable of Durham Police.

He said Mr Cumming's trip to Durham "undermines" the government's stay at home message, adding: "I sincerely hope it’s not fatal what he’s done."

Mr Barton (pictured), who retired last year after 40 years policing, said: "I can see it for cops and PCSOs on the frontline, when they are dealing with people who don’t want to comply, they used to say 'I pay your wages', now you can hear them saying ‘Dominic Cummings told me that I can interpret these rules’.

"If someone thinks it's within the rules to travel 260 miles with coronavirus, well its farcical.

Mike Barton
PA Media

"It was really straightforward before and Mr Cummings has made it complicated. Police officers are going to have to enforce it and the Prime Minister and Mr Cummings have made police officers' jobs so much harder for them.

"What he did was dreadful and it has completely undermined how police deal with this and, as an ex-police officer, I am angry on their behalf."

Mr Cummings said he believed he had acted 'reasonably' and within the law when he drove 260 miles from London to Durham during the coronavirus lockdown.

NHS thanks painted on road

A giant message of thanks to the NHS has been painted on a road outside a hospital.

The message complete with a rainbow appeared outside Bishop Auckland General Hospital yesterday and a second was painted outside Aldi supermarket in the town.

NHS tribute outside hospital
Sam Zair

The works were carried out by Durham County Council at the request of Bishop Auckland councillor Sam Zair.

"I think this tribute will lift the spirits of the community and also show our support and respect to all key workers," Mr Zair said, adding: "I hope it will be in place for quite a while."

Hate mail threats for Bishops after speaking out on Cummings

Local Democracy Reporting Service

Some of the Church of England's most senior bishops have reported receiving hate mail and death threats after speaking out on Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings' alleged breach of lockdown rules.

Mr Cummings has been facing calls to resign after it emerged he had driven his child and ill wife from London to County Durham during lockdown.

Bishop of Worcester John Inge tweeted that he received an email warning "stay out of politics or we'll kill you" after he criticised Boris Johnson's "risible defence" of Mr Cummings on Sunday night.

Christine Hardman, Bishop of Newcastle (pictured), wrote: "I too received such an email. I feel concern for the person who sent it and will hold him or her in prayer."

Helen-Ann Hartley, the bishop of Ripon, reported a similar threat.

Christine Hardman
Diocese of Newcastle
Christine Hardman, Bishop of Newcastle

The Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, tweeted: "There will be those in Durham who defend Boris for his standing by Dominic Cummings. But most who have worked so hard to abide by the rules and guidance of the past weeks will feel hurt, angry, and let down. Trust has been broken. For the nation's sake rebuild it quickly."

PM's aide 'operating in bubble of selfish privilege'

The former chief constable of Durham Police says the government's defence of advisor Dominic Cummings has "driven a coach and horses" through their coronavirus lockdown policies - "all to save one of their own".

Mr Cummings drove 260 miles (420km) with his family to be near relatives when his wife developed Covid-19 symptoms in late-March.

Mike Barton, who led the North East force until his retirement in June, accused Transport Secretary Grant Shapps of using "weasel words" at Saturday's coronavirus briefing in which he said Mr Cummings had done nothing wrong.

Mike Barton, pictured during his time as Durham Police's chief constable

He told BBC Radio Newcastle: "Just when we should have a government and people in it leading by example, we've actually got them somehow operating in a bubble of selfish privilege and denial. It frankly beggars belief.

"This is not a risk to life [situation]. This is just convenience for a privileged family. His attitude and behaviour shames our government and the country."

Mr Cummings yesterday told reporters he did the "right thing", although he now faces fresh claims he committed a second breach of lockdown guidelines.

Weather: Staying windy, showers possible

BBC Weather

Tonight remains windy with clear spells and some further scattered showers moving in from the west at times.

Fresh south-westerly winds.

You can see a detailed forecast for your area here

Weather graphic

Weather: Dry and warm, feeling fresher

BBC Weather

Showers will clear leaving a dry afternoon with plenty of sunshine.

Feeling warm but feeling fresher than yesterday, with light winds and highest temperatures from 16C to 20C (61F to 68F).

You can see a detailed forecast for your area here

Weather graphic

'No penalty' for parents unwilling to send children back to school

Parents and carers in County Durham will not be penalised for failing to send their children back to school during the government's phased return, the county council has said.

It has been providing extensive guidance to schools and decisions on the timings and the number of pupils returning will be based on a risk assessment for each premises.

Olwyn Gunn, cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said that the safety of staff and pupils was paramount and schools should only start a phased reopening when they felt it was safe to do so.

She added: “Parents and carers can be assured that they will not be penalised if they make the decision not to send their children back.

"They can make the choice they feel is right and should not be pressured into a decision they are uncomfortable with.”

Durham University vice-chancellor announces retirement plan

The vice-chancellor and warden of Durham University, has announced his intention to retire on 31 July 2021, the end of the next academic year.

Professor Stuart Corbridge joined the university in September 2015 having previously served as Deputy Director and Provost at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Professor Stuart Corbridge
Durham University

“Leading Durham University over the last five years has been an immense privilege for me both as a leader and as an academic," he said, adding: "As a community we have achieved so much with our University Strategy to transform our research, education and wider student experience. I am very proud of those collective achievements."

A spokesman said an international search for a new leader of Durham University will now commence.

Visitors thinking of heading to Northumberland asked to stay home

Local Democracy Reporting Service

With the weather looking good for the rest of the week, Northumberland County Council is calling for residents to "stay at home as much as possible".

it is thought people will be tempted to spend more time outdoors, particularly in the wake of Government lockdown restrictions being eased, with unlimited exercise now allowed.

However, a Northumberland County Council spokeswoman said: “When people do go out to exercise, they should do so with caution, and keep their distance from others.

“We’re also asking that if people travel somewhere to exercise, they are respectful and sensible and not block roads where people live."

The authority opened its four country parks – Druridge Bay, Bolam Lake, Plessey Woods and Tyne Riverside – last week, but has yet to reopen its car parks along the Northumberland coast, pending full assessment that it is safe to do so.

Druridge Bay

The Northumberland National Park Authority began to reopen its car parks last Friday, although toilets and visitor centres remain closed.

Meanwhile, Kielder Water and Forest Park has announced that some car parks and public toilets will reopen tomorrow.

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Ex-soldier volunteers to help the vulnerable

Jonathan Swingler

Video Journalist

A former soldier from County Durham has volunteered to help the vulnerable in his community during the coronavirus pandemic.

Chris Parkes was injured in Afghanistan ten years ago, but says it has "opened more doors" for him and is using what happened as a "force for good".

He signed up to help charities in the North East - using his motorbike to deliver things like prescriptions and food shopping to those who are vulnerable.

Chris Parkes

Weather: Mostly dry feeling warmer

BBC Weather

This afternoon looks largely dry with variable cloud and some sunny spells breaking through later.

And it's feeling warmer.

You can find a detailed forecast for your area here

Weather graphic

Weather: Cloudy with showers possible

BBC Weather

Staying mostly cloudy today, with one or two passing showers.

However, cloud will break at times to give a few sunny spells.

Feeling warm, but there will be a brisk westerly wind.

You can see a detailed forecast for your area here

Weather graphic

Lockdown volunteers discover people isolated for a long time

North East volunteers who are helping vulnerable people during lockdown say they are coming across some who have been cut off and isolated in their homes for years.

The Food for Thought community project in Sacriston in County Durham has been delivering shopping, food parcels and hot meals.

In the process they say that they have found and helped some people who have been under the radar for years.

In a statement, Durham County Council said: "We would encourage anyone who is struggling to get in contact with us so we can help them in the best possible way."

It added that it also has information on its website to direct residents to specific services.

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Durham police recruitment drive

If you are considering a change of career during lockdown have you thought about joining the police?

Durham Constabulary is starting a recruitment drive at the end of the month.

Ahead of that, there is a question and answer session online this afternoon.

The force is inviting questions on Facebook from 2 o'clock.

Durham's chief constable Jo Farrell
Durham's chief constable Jo Farrell
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Brothers working together on ambulance shifts

Brothers Luke and Sam Hopper have been describing what life is like, working together on the front line for the North East Ambulance service.

“Working together is the only way we get to see each other at the moment! So it’s so nice to have a catch up at work as we haven’t seen each other in four weeks – not even at work due to being on opposite shifts."

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Weather: Staying dry and feeling mild

BBC Weather

Dry conditions are expected to continue throughout the night.

There will be clear spells at first, but it is expected to turn cloudier after midnight, and feeling mild again with light winds.

You can see a detailed forecast where you live here

Weather graphic

Weather: Dry and sunny

BBC Weather

This afternoon feels warmer, staying dry with sunny spells, but some areas of cloud are expected to develop later.

Tonight stays dry and milder with light winds.

Check out the forecast for your area here

Weather graphic

Partition screen pilot for Uber taxis

Taxi firms Addison Lee and Uber have announced new safety measures as the government looks to ease coronavirus restrictions and people return to work.

Addison Lee will fit perspex partition screens between drivers and passengers across its 4,000 vehicles next week.

And Uber is paying the AA to install partitions in 400 cars in Newcastle, Sunderland and Durham as part of an initial pilot.

Both firms are also distributing free protective equipment to drivers.

Uber screen being installed

Ride hailing taxi app firm Uber said its pilot in the North East of England was crucial for the company to get a better understanding of how to carry passengers on journeys as safely as possible.

Weather : Rain moving in

BBC Weather

Enjoy the sunny spells, as cloud and rain, will move in later this afternoon from the north, perhaps falling as snow on hills.

Temperatures are feeling chilly in brisk northerly winds.

Tonight, the cloud and rain will soon clear to the south this evening to leave a dry night with long clear spells.

Turning cold with a frost and winds easing in the early hours.

Find a detailed forecast for your area here

Weather graphic

Roadworks restarting in County Durham

Roadworks are gradually getting back under way in County Durham as the county council starts to reinstate some projects.

One project is Junction 61 at Bowburn, which was stopped in March in response to government guidance aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Now, the authority says that in line with the latest national guidance, a number of highways projects are resuming including Bowburn.

There will be road closures and diversions in place.

Meanwhile the council is also reinstating highway services where it is safe to do so.

These projects include road resurfacing and specialist surfacing schemes, gully cleansing, highways and street lighting maintenance, and bridges and structures; while the council will continue to offer critical and emergency works including emergency repairs, road traffic accidents and emergency highway defects.

Mark Readman, the council’s highway services manager, said: “All the projects and services we are now resuming or reinstating are firmly in line with the latest guidance and we will ensure the safety of staff on these works.”

The Bowburn junction
Durham County Council

Cash help for community centres during the pandemic

Help is on hand for County Durham’s community centres and village halls to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

Durham County Council says that many are struggling because they rely on income from room hire to keep their buildings open.

The council's 14 Area Action Partnerships (AAPs), have been given a combined £1.4 million as part of a COViD-19 Assistance Fund to cover three months of bills or to support groups who are currently helping their local community.

Those now being helped include Newton Hall Community Centre which has opened its doors to the Durham Foodbank

Staff at the foodbank are using the centre as somewhere to pack and prepare family food parcels for the Durham area.

Volunteer packers
Durham County Council

Children's friendship messages branch out across the globe

County Durham children are linking with others around the world during the pandemic.

Durham County Council’s international relations team is helping them to create a virtual friendship tree on social media.

The council says that project was inspired by the Friendship Tree installation at Lumiere Durham last year where North East artist Mick Stephenson created a magical tree installation made up of illuminated plastic bottles containing messages of hope penned by schoolchildren in countries across every continent.

This time, pupils in school and those being educated at home will take pictures of their messages to be sent to the council and displayed on the Durham Lumiere Friendship Tree Instagram page.

Tanfield Lea Community Primary School pupils Luke , Jakob,  Amelia, Izzy and Emilie  with their friendship tree messages.
Durham County Council
Tanfield Lea Community Primary School pupils Luke, Jakob, Amelia, Izzy and Emilie with their friendship tree messages.

Council defends cut in domestic abuse scheme

James Harrison

Local Democracy Reporter

Durham County Council has defended its decision to cut the amount of money it gives to help domestic abuse victims and other vulnerable people start new lives.

Its Welfare Assistance Scheme (WAS) normally issues "settlement grants" of up to £1,000 for families and individuals fleeing abusive partners or who have been made homeless.

People leaving hospital, care homes or prisons can also access the money.

But the amount available to single people has been halved to £500.

Liberal Democrat opposition councillor Mark Wilkes said he was frustrated the decision was announced through an online notice with an apparent lack of oversight.

Council cabinet member Angela Surtees said a review prior to the coronavirus led to changes to keep the scheme within budget.

The authority offered a number of other types of financial assistance, she said.

Students 'should be released from tenancy contracts'

BBC Newcastle

Students are being charged for tenancies despite no longer living in their rental properties because universities are in lockdown, an MP has warned.

While Durham University has waived final-term rent fees for students living in university-owned rooms, some private landlords are still charging students, Mary Foy says.

The Labour MP for the City of Durham is asking landlords to release them from their contracts.

"They really should now support the students and release them. I'm sure they're able to apply to the government for support," she said.

Government advice says "tenants are still liable for their rent and should pay this as usual". It suggests those facing hardship should talk to their landlord to discuss a rent payment scheme.

Weather: Dry evening ahead

BBC Weather

Staying dry this afternoon with patchy cloud, and feeling quite breezy. Cloud should dissipate, with long sunny spells into the evening as the breeze begins to ease.

Tonight stays dry with mostly clear skies overnight, and winds becoming light. Although it will feel chilly for the time of year.

You can get a detailed forecast for your area here

Weather graphic

Latest figures show 470 Covid-19 related care home deaths

Latest figures show there were 470 deaths involving Covid-19 in care homes in the north-east of England between 10 April and 1 May.

The figures have been released by the Office for National Statistics and are the notifications to the Care Quality Commission.

The highest number of deaths in the region was in County Durham with 120, followed by 54 in Sunderland, 47 in Gateshead and 46 in Northumberland.

Care home deaths involving Covid-19

Cash help for Durham firefighters

James Harrison

Local Democracy Reporter

County Durham's fire service will get more than £470,000 to help it through the Covid-19 outbreak.

Bosses at County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service (CDDFRS) have seen costs rise over measures to limit the spread of coronavirus.

But the government has now stepped in with its second round of funding to help brigades and councils through the crisis.

Tony Hope, CDDFRS’s treasurer, said: “The additional money will be used to cover additional staff costs, one-off ICT costs to provide home working solutions, additional cleaning and decontamination supplies and additional personal protective equipment.”

An initial round of government funding for local authorities and fire services to help with the impact of Covid-19 was worth £1.6bn nationally. The second cash injection has doubled aid to £3.6bn.

However, while CDDFRS and the neighbouring fire brigades for Tyne and Wear and Cleveland are both due more money in the second funding round, all 12 of the North East local authorities are in line for less.

In total, the region is expected to receive more than £75m, about £18m less than in the first tranche.

Getty Images

Weather: Cloud and sunny spells

BBC Weather

Cloud will develop throughout the afternoon with sunshine breaking through at times.

Winds picking up from the east to become quite gusty at times.

You can see a detailed forecast for your area here

Weather graphic

Your photos: Katelyn's rainbow pictures for key workers

Thanks to Heather Fairley from Durham for sending us these photos of her five-year-old daughter Katelyn who has been making rainbow pictures to thank key workers.

If you want to get in touch with any news or send us photos you can tweet us, contact us via our Facebook page or email us.

Heather Fairley

North East weather: Cloudy and cool with rain for some

BBC Weather

It's a cloudy start with patches of rain that may be heavy at times. Sunny intervals will develop into the afternoon, but winds will become quite gusty through the day.

Showers will ease in the early evening with some patchy cloud persisting through the night. It will feel slightly cool for early May.

You can check the forecast where you are here

Weather forecast, Monday 4 May 2020