CARLISLE still has the county’s highest Covid-19 infection rate - though the more virulent new variant of the virus is fuelling a surge in cases across Cumbria.

Colin Cox, the county’s Director of Public Health, says the new strain is probably responsible for at least 75 per cent of cases in Carlisle and west Cumbria.

In South Lakeland, the variant is being blamed for at least half the cases.

“We’re seeing the impact of Christmas feeding through and we will also then see the impact of the New Year,” said Mr Cox. In Carlisle, the current infection rate per 100,000 of population is just above 1,100.

“The figures are very clearly telling us that we have to follow the lockdown rules,” said Mr Cox. “We should all think very seriously about the level of social contact we are having.”

Community transmissions rates remain extremely high across the county. Over the last seven days in Carlisle, 1,013 have tested positive for Covid-19.

In Eden, where the infection rate is more than 700 per 100,000, the weekly total of cases was 363.

The latest deaths data make for gloomy reading.

The hospital trusts treating patients in the county - at Barrow, Carlisle, and Whitehaven - have now between them reported the deaths of 675 covid patients.

North Cumbria Integrated Care Foundation Trust, which runs The Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven, has reported 277 deaths - 20 of them in the last two weeks.

The hospitals are currently treating 180 covid patients. Managers have declared an Opel 4 Alert - the highest possible. The hospitals - already facing winter pressures - have cancelled non-urgent operations to free up resources for covid patients.

Managers described services as “extremely fragile.”

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust, which runs Furness General Hospital in Barrow and hospitals in Lancashire has reported 398 deaths.

In the last week, Allerdale has seen 441 new cases and Copeland 188 new cases, new figures show.