Carlisle City Council leader John Mallinson has seen a fair number of crises during his 28 years in local politics.

Two catastrophic floods – first in 2005 and then again in 2015 – brought challenge and heartache for thousands of traumatised residents in the city and for hundreds of businesses as the tough task of rebuilding got under way.

The foot-and-mouth disease crisis of 2001 was another local trauma, with the surreal image of livestock pyres sending columns of acrid smoke skywards seared on our collective memory.

Yet none of that comes close to matching the scale and the depth of the crisis triggered by the pandemic.

The story of Covid-19 in Cumbria can be told in figures: in stark and brutal statistics, not least of which are the number of deaths which this dreadful virus has caused across the county:

n 603 deaths in both care homes and NHS hospitals run by trusts operating in the county;

n 4,691 ‘lab-confirmed’ infections in the county since the pandemic began;

n 78,200 people supported by the furlough scheme during the crisis (34 per cent of the workforce);

n 18,700 self-employed people claiming support;

n And a 20.7 per cent contraction in the county’s economy.

Asked about how Covid-19 compares to other challenges he has seen locally during his time in politics, Councillor Mallinson says: “It doesn’t compare. It’s so different to anything else we’ve had. The last time we had anything like it at all would be the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. We’ve had nothing like it since.

“We’re in absolutely uncharted waters.

“There’s no textbook; no roadmap.”

On the national political stage, this week saw the first truly clear divide on strategy over how to respond to the crisis: Labour leader Keir Starmer is backing the suggestion from the Government’s committee of expert science advisors, who called for a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown.

This would help the UK avoid potentially “catastrophic consequences” as we go into the winter, they say.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists that it makes no sense – with the economy already battered and bruised by long months of lockdown – to close down local economies in areas where the infection rate is low.

“It would be difficult for the public to face another lockdown like the one we had in the spring,” says Mr Mallinson.

“However, I’m not qualified to judge if it’s necessary.

“We need to keep people safe as much as we can but you could say that the extreme lockdown in the spring was to save the NHS and to reduce pressure on it. It worked – to a degree. Whatever the rules and regulations, we need people to protect themselves and protect others.”

Like many other people, Mr Mallinson saw TV news coverage of revellers in Liverpool a few days ago, partying in the street, all thoughts of social distancing abandoned. Those images left him feeling despair, he says. “The longer this goes on the more damage it’s doing to the economy.

“You’d be forgiven for thinking it must now be a heap of rubble. It’s going to be a long road back. Covid kills people; but it’s not the only thing that kills people. Poverty kills people as well.”

Carlisle MP John Stevenson described the current crisis as “incredibly challenging.”

Schemes such as Carlisle’s long-awaited St Cuthbert’s garden village project and the southern ring road will put the city in a strong position to recover, he says. He also agrees with current Government strategy, a tiered approach that tailors restrictions to local infection rates.

“It would seem perverse to close down the whole economy when you have parts of the country which are very low infection areas,” he says. “It would be unnecessarily harsh and probably counter-productive to treat those areas in the same way as an area like Liverpool with its high infection rate.”

As for the months ahead, Mr Stevenson is clear about what Cumbrians should do. He says: “A lot will depend on our own communities being vigilant and taking appropriate measures in their everyday lives. That’s how we can make sure we don’t have rising infection rates.

“There’s no clear end to this. There’s going to be a long-term legacy. The next three to five years will be extremely challenging. There’s only one solution, in my view: the Government has got to go for growth. The alternatives are not particularly nice: one is inflation and the other is austerity.

“But Carlisle is quite well placed because we have a lot projects in the pipeline which will help underpin the economic confidence of the city, so we’re in a better place than many.”

Cumbria Chamber of Commerce chief executive Rob Johnston said the Government had implemented “good schemes” – at a cost of billions – to support employers and employees through the furlough programme and business support schemes. But the crisis has proved to be deeper and and more long-lasting than expected.

“The challenge is that all the wealth spent on providing that support has to be recreated,” says Mr Johnston.

“And the only way that we as a country can do that is by allowing businesses to get back to being businesses so that both companies and employees are paying taxes. Lockdown is a catastrophe at this stage; we should be coming out of it, regaining profitability and keeping people in jobs.

“Unless a high percentage of businesses can survive, pay those taxes, and create that wealth, we have got some really serious problems ahead of us.”

Referring to the call for a “circuit-breaker” lockdown, Mr Johnston says that such a tool could be used strategically, allowing traders to come back at a time most advantageous to them: the run-up to Christmas.

“Once that period has gone, it’s months before that opportunity can reoccur and in retail it can sometimes be a year,” he says.

Another insight into this scary crisis comes from Malcolm Ward. A chartered insurance broker, and a landlord, the 84-year-old has been in business in Carlisle since 1963. “I’ve never seen it as gloomy,” he says. “I was speaking to the wife of one [city centre] retailer and she told me her husband had a nightmare because trading is so poor. We need to encourage people into the city centre.”

Free parking and more toilets would promote recovery, he says.