The director of public health for Cumbria sees the change of use of the leisure centres as a positive for the area.

The army have been tasked with bringing materials to Penrith leisure centre that will then be distributed to centres in Carlisle, Whitehaven, Kendal and Furness Academy in Barrow to provide extra NHS beds as a way of dealing with the coronavirus demand.

The work is being led locally by agencies in Cumbria working as part of the Local Resilience Forum.

Colin Cox, the director of public health for Cumbria County Council, said: “I think that a time when the news is generally challenging, this is positive for Cumbria.

“It’s the sort of thing that will absolutely have potential to help the NHS respond to things and meet the demands that we are under and it’s really good in Cumbria that we have been able to do this, working closely with the NHS and local councils and police and other partners.”

Mr Cox sees having these hospitals in each catchment area - Carlisle, Penrith, Whitehaven, Kendal and Barrow - as a benefit to the county.

“It’s absolutely a benefit,” he added. “They are there to support the NHS to have access to beds, just because there aren’t many beds in Cumbria generally.

“We know that we may well need additional capacity so it is there to provide the NHS with additional bed capacity which will then enable them to keep patients flowing through the hospital, freeing up beds in critical care when needed.

“So it’s really important for us.”

Mr Cox further added that the these new beds being created showed Cumbria was taking a positive approach towards the coronavirus pandemic.

He continued: “It is absolutely not a negative the way Cumbria is dealing with this.

“It’s quite the contrary. It shows a real positive approach to addressing this. Of course, we are expecting numbers to go up, numbers are going to go up everywhere, over the next couple of weeks.

“The fact that Cumbria has managed to respond early enough and get these beds in place well before they are needed shows quite how well Cumbria are working together to try and tackle this and support the NHS.”