A CUMBRIAN medic who has seen first-hand the devastating cost of the pandemic is urging people to follow the new rules to help stem the tide of a second wave.

Dr Jon Sturman, clinical director of intensive care at the trust which the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle, said: “You would not want it: this is a horrible illness.”

People across north Cumbria are being urged not to relax their vigilance against coronavirus as new figures show infection rates in the county are rising.

As the winter months approach and tighter restrictions are ushered in nationwide, two senior health professionals in the county have spoken of the need to follow the life-saving advice about social distancing, hygiene and face coverings.

With schools and universities now open, and infection rates across the country rising, there are fears that some people may grow weary of the measures that have thus far helped drive down the number of cases.

Colin Cox, Cumbria’s Director of Public Health, said that with the exception of Barrow, infection rates in Cumbria are below the national average but the latest figures reveal a rising number of cases in Carlisle – up from around seven a week in recent weeks to a current seven day total of 19.

“Carlisle has been very good until the last couple of days,” said Mr Cox. “It’s started to go up again. There has been an element of a reduction in social distancing.

“We are at a very risky point. It’s absolutely incumbent on all that we protect the most vulnerable people in our society by doing everything that we can to bring this virus back under control. That means maintaining physical distance in particular and trying to follow the official advice and minimise social contact.”

Experts have long known that coronavirus spreads more readily in the colder weather, partly because people tend to spend more time indoors.

Mr Cox added: “Many people who get this virus will be okay themselves. What we’re seeing now is not just lots of mild cases or asymptomatic cases; we’re seeing a significant rise in hospitalisations in the north west.”

During the early months of the pandemic, staff at the Cumberland Infirmary were routinely caring for severely ill Covid-19 patients, though many survived thanks to the expert care they were given.

Dr Sturman, of the North Cumbria Integrated Care Foundation Trust which runs the Carlisle hospital, said: “Just because you might have a mild illness, or no illness at all, we all potentially are transmitters of this virus.

“In terms of the public and the healthcare system we don’t want to be overwhelmed and on the smaller scale nobody wants their elderly relative – their mother, father, or grandparent – to have this illness.”

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He said cases of pneumonia caused by coronavirus are more severe than would be the case in seasonal flu. “It’s more severe than anything we have seen before,” said Dr Sturman.

“Pneumonia is a common reason for admission to intensive care but this one is more severe and its effects last loonger and it consumes hospital resources a lot more.” The high risk of infection also means that the task for doctors and nurses, encumbered as they are by PPE - is greater also, he said.

Andy Slattery, Cumbria’s Assistant Chief Constable, welcomed the Government’s latest measures to curb the spread of the virus as winter approaches.

He said: “Cases are now rising dramatically across the country, hospitalisations are rising and we are starting to see an increase in deaths.

“The situation which has been developing in recent weeks meant that continued release of lockdown was no longer sustainable and measures had to be taken to apply the brakes. Hopefully these measures will have the desired effect but more stringent restrictions may need to come into force if they do not.

“The vast majority of people in Cumbria were fantastic in respecting the restrictions earlier this year. People not only protected their own health but protected the well-being of others, including close family members, which resulted in greatly reduced infections and provided relief for the NHS.

“We are now asking you to do the same and I am confident Cumbrian people will again meet the challenge and adhere to the new regulations.

“For the minority who do not, my message is that we will not hesitate to take enforcement action against those who show a wilful disregard for the health and well-being of themselves and others.

“Refusal to adhere to the regulations is not your individual risk, it is a collective risk for all in our communities. Cumbria Constabulary issued hundreds of fixed penalty notices over the summer months to those who broke the rules and non-compliance with the new measures is unacceptable and will result in newly increased penalties.

“The new measures include the closing of licensed premises at 10pm and Police officers will patrol areas where licensed premises operate to ensure the regulations are being respected, and to prevent people from congregating in the street afterwards. If you are out socialising then please go home as soon as the pubs and takeaways close at 10pm.

“The activity of the multi-agency Strategic Co-ordinating Group was scaled back as the regulations were relaxed over the summer. However, we are now increasing this activity, with all authorities and partners meeting regularly to ensure the pandemic is tackled effectively, locally.

“This is a critical point. I urge people to think about why these new measures are necessary and what will happen if they are not adhered to. If people respond positively to the new measures, we can once again curtail the rise in infections which will, ultimately, save the lives of people in our community.

People are reminded to continue to take the three simple actions which can help reduce the spread of infection – wash your hands, cover your face and make space. The fewer people you have contact with, either at work or when socialising, the lower your risk of infection so please act now and protect yourselves, your families and the vulnerable in our communities.

In the meantime, people across Cumbria are being urged to send in their messages of thanks to staff working at the trust. All messages will be shared during three day virtual Festival of Thanks and wellbeing taking place next week.

The Festival will include a day of remembrance and reflection a thank you day to recognise the efforts of the staff and to thank the public for their support during the pandemic and a virtual wellbeing day for staff.

Justine Steele, Director of Workforce and Organisational Development at NCIC, said: “We want to give something back to our incredible staff and teams at NCIC and as such have planned a mini virtual festival.

“As part of the festival, we’ll be holding a thank you day which will include announcing the winners of our staff thank you awards and recognising and celebrating all of our incredible staff at the Trust for the work they’ve done in response to COVID-19 over the past 7 months.

“This is where we are asking our Cumbrian public to get involved and send in their messages, so we can share these on the day and throughout the festival.”

Messages can be sent in via social media, Facebook: @NCICNHS Twitter: @NCICNHS or via the NCIC website: https://www.ncic.nhs.uk/patients-visitors/support-and-advice/messages-staff