THERE are now at least 280 Covid-19 patients who are seriously ill enough to need care at the hospitals in Carlisle and Whitehaven, say NHS bosses.

Amid continuing warnings from experts about how virulent the new strain of coronavirus is, NHS staff at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven are seeing firsthand the human cost of the pandemic.

Over the last two or three weeks, Covid patient numbers at the hospitals have almost doubled.

A small number with the condition have been transferred to hospitals elsewhere in the region - part of wider efforts to ease pressure on services.

Senior medics from the NHS trust which runs the two hospitals - North Cumbria Integrated Care (NCIC) NHS Foundation Trust - warned earlier this week that Cumbria is yet to see the peak in Covid hospital admissions.

The current surge in cases is blamed on the effects of the more infectious new strain of the virus and increased social mixing at Christmas.

There is also growing evidence that more younger people are becoming seriously ill. A tragic reminder of this came as hospital bosses confirmed the death from Covid-19 of a much loved employee - 39-year-old father-of-two Michael Wilson.

The latest figures show there have now been 302 covid patient deaths reported by NCIC since the pandemic began.

Recent weeks have seen a worrying escalation in admissions and deaths. Since January 1, according to the most recent figures, 29 patient deaths have been reported.

These include four days in the last week when there were four Covid fatalities recorded.

Infection rates in north Cumbria remain high, with Carlisle reporting almost twice as many new cases as the England average.

Over seven days in the Carlisle area, 1,251 people tested positive for coronavirus - an infection rate per 100,000 of population of 1,151. The current England average is 654 per 100,000.

In Allerdale, in the same period, there were 679 new cases (694 per 100,000); in Copeland, 395 new cases (579 per 100,000); in Eden, 391 new cases (734 per 100,000). Yesterday’s 24-hour UK total for covid deaths was 1,564 - the highest so far.