Don’t panic is the message from Cumbria’s director of public health as new figures revealing the number of local deaths from Covid-19 have been revealed.

The Office for National Statistics has launched an interactive map which shows a very localised picture of the number of deaths recorded between March 1 and May 31, where Covid-19 was the underlying cause or a contributory factor.

In the Carlisle area there were 121 deaths recorded during that time, with 23 of those in Botcherby and Harraby alone.

But Colin Cox wants to reassure the public that this data does not indicate hot spots in particular areas. He says that, as lockdown eases, observing social distancing is “as important as ever” to prevent new cases of Covid-19.

Mr Cox does not want people to read too much into these figures as they can be “very significantly skewed” by a single care home in the area or how densely populated it is.

“We know that Covid-19 kills older people at a much higher rate than anybody else, so in older areas you would expect to have a higher number of deaths. This is just a raw number of deaths and isn’t age-standardised or even in proportion of the populations,” he said.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean there is a hot spot for community-related infections so if things are related to outbreaks in care homes, that doesn’t mean the rest of the population around it have been at any more risk.

“At this stage, it’s just a recording of what’s happened. The deaths aren’t a very useful tool for controlling the virus because they take several weeks to happen after the virus has been contracted. If you’re relying on deaths you’re too late.”

His key message is for the public to remain vigilant.

“The virus is still out there. It is still circulating and it could come back,” he continued. “If we want to avoid any local lockdowns or going back into lockdown and getting a second wave, we do need to identify symptoms, trace contacts of people who have got symptoms and self-isolate and observe social distancing at all times.

“Having a good contact tracing system at this stage is essential to coming out of lockdown safely.”

Last month officials confirmed Covid-19 had probably claimed the lives of 145 care home residents across the county.

At Pennine Lodge, in Harraby, the outbreak had affected more than half the residents, with 44 testing positive, along with 29 staff.

Jeff Bomford, Independent councillor for Botcherby and Harraby North, believes a number of factors need to be taken into account. He said there is at least one other care home and a lot of elderly residents in the ward.

“[This data] has its pros and cons,” he said. “If you tell someone who’s already mentally stressed and suffers from anxiety that there were 23 deaths in his neighbourhood it’s not going to help his situation.

“But then at the same time people who are thinking the shops are open, it might wake them up again to think let’s only go if we need anything and not just for a jaunt or walkabout. It’s not gone. People forget the virus is still here and there’s no vaccine yet. Just because things are opening back up it has not changed any facts that way.”

He added that it’s also important to remember the wider impact of the pandemic on other health issues.

“Nationally when it’s getting reported, it’s very fixated on the Covid increases only. But life still goes on, other things are still happening and we can’t forget all the other issues,” he said.

“If there is an increase in suicide due to stress, it’s getting overshadowed by this. The NHS has had to stop millions of operations during this, where some of them were life-altering.

“There are a lot of issues out there. It’s everything else as well.”