CORONAVIRUS infection rates have surged across Cumbria, prompting health chiefs to issue urgent new advice aimed at reducing people’s social contact across the county.

The county’s director of public health Colin Cox urged everybody living in the county to “seize the opportunity” to help drive down infection rates and so avoid tougher lockdown measures as the latest figures confirmed a worrying surge in cases.

Across Cumbria, the number of infections doubled in seven days while in Carlisle the accelerating rate of infections has been even more alarming. Health chiefs across the UK are increasingly concerned by the latest figures tracking the pandemic.

With huge swathes of northern England now subject to tougher local lockdown measures, Mr Cox said it is vital that Cumbrians minimise their social contact where possible.

New figures show the county’s infection rate - measured as cases per 100,000 - doubled by the end of the week ending September 25. It rose from 109 cases per 100,000 to 209 per 100,000.

The current rate is estimated to be about 225 per 100,000, said Mr Cox.

He said: “It’s rising and rising rapidly. A substantial part of that rise is in Barrow, where it has been going up dramatically.”

Asked how the rising number of cases can be explained, Mr Cox said: “There’s no single explanation for it, but there’s definitely something around social distancing and increased social mixing.

“A couple of weeks ago we advised people in Barrow to limit their social contacts to no more than two households at any one time.

“We’re now issuing that advice to the whole of Cumbria. That’s within the national rule of six.

“That’s the law: that no more than six people can get together at any one time. Those six should be from a maximum of two households.”

Mr Cox noted that in some parts of the north east people are currently banned from mixing with any person outside their household.

In Carlisle, infection rates have risen “particularly dramatically” over the last week to 10 days, said Mr Cox. Its rate on September 18 was 7.4 per 100,000 per week.

By September 27 the figure was 44.2 per 100,000 per week. The county’s hospitals are also now also witnessing a return to Covid-19 patients needing hospital treatment after several weeks where this was not the case.

At the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven there are currently about 10 covid patients.

The latest figures underline the vital need for people to heed the official advice about social distancing, hand washing,

“It may not look like it in Cumbria, where the rates are lower than the England average but when you see what’s happening in the North West as a whole and Cumbria is surrounded by areas of lockdown, and the rates are rising here and around us, it feels like this is a bit of a turning point.

“We can choose to act now, and make a difference, or we can delay with some risk.”

He warned that the winter will help the virus spread as people spend more time indoors.

Mr Cox added: “The advice we’re giving people is to act early and seize the opportunity to make a difference and bring these rates down. If we don’t do that, and it gets out of hand, then we lose control. At the moment’ there’s a chance of keeping it down. We’ve had more than 500 deaths in Cumbria and that’s what we want to avoid. We’re trying to avoid -serious illness, death, and disruption to the economy.”