A STARK warning has been issued by the chief executive of North Yorkshire County Council for people to obey Government guidance on social distancing and do everything possible to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

The county has joined others across the country in declaring COVID-19 a major incident and is reiterating that everyone should keep their distance from each other and not to visit the county to help protect the most vulnerable.

Following a weekend during which some cafes, stalls and shops were very busy and a number of beauty spots and small rural communities reported large numbers of visitors, the county’s local resilience forum is formalising its response and clamping down of those who flout the guidance from Government.

Richard Flinton, chairman of the North Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum and chief executive of the county council said: “We fully anticipate that like elsewhere, North Yorkshire will suffer its share of sickness and very sadly its share of deaths. I do not say that to frighten people but to call them to action.

“We have a very brief window of opportunity now to try and help to lessen that impact on our county and its residents,” he said.

“I am appealing to everyone to abide very strictly to the government’s guidance on social distancing and to make sure they understand what that means. We cannot have situations like we had at the weekend where large numbers of people came into our market towns and communities and put themselves and others at risk by not keeping a safe distance. This is not a holiday – it’s a national emergency.

“If we each take responsibility for doing our bit now we will help to lessen the impact on those who we need to protect the most, our older residents and those with underlying conditions which could make them more susceptible to some of the more serious symptoms. Comply today and consistently every day and in a few weeks that will pay dividends, not in stopping the virus but in lessening the impact.”

He said people should be wary of thinking they were immune from the coronavirus.

“School children and university students, people enjoying the spring sun, visitors, businesses, residents – please listen and keep your distance – do not think it won’t happen to you. By mixing with other family and friends you could inadvertently take this virus to someone who could become very poorly indeed – and no one wants that.”

The council says Government advice is very clear regarding travel and social distancing, and essential travel does not include visits to second homes, camp sites, caravan parks or similar, whether for isolation purposes or holidays. It says people should remain in their primary residence, and not taking these steps puts additional pressure on communities and services that are already at risk.

North Yorkshire’s Director of Public Health, Dr Lincoln Sargeant, said: “The majority of people who contract COVID-19 will have mild symptoms. This means people can spread the infection without knowing because they do not feel ill or may pass off the symptoms as something else.

“Some groups such as the elderly and people with underlying health conditions may have more severe disease if they contract the virus. The majority of them will recover but some will need hospital admission and a small percent will need intensive care support to recover.

“Even though the chances that an individual will get severe life-threatening illness with COVID-19 is small, a small percentage of a large number like the UK population can be a very large number. This is important because the NHS is not set up to deal with sudden increases in the number of people needed to be admitted to hospital.

“It may take up to a week for someone who has contracted the virus to show symptoms and it takes four to five days on average between onset of symptoms and hospital admission for those with severe illness. As a result, there is a time lag of perhaps two weeks between the contact when the virus passes from one person to another and when the infected person shows up in the statistics. This means that infections that are happening today will not be apparent for two weeks.”

Dr Sargeant said the virus spreads best through close personal contact.

“This means spending 15 minutes or more within two metres of someone who is infected. Most cases will therefore arise through contact with people we know and trust – who may not appear to be ill. They can then pass it on, often unknowingly, to others in their household, workplace or circle of friends.

“The second way in which the virus spreads is through people touching contaminated surfaces and then touching their mouth, nose and eyes allowing any virus on their hands to enter the body. The advice to wash hands frequently with soap and hot water for 20 seconds and not to touch your face when out in public areas is the best way to prevent this method of spread.

“The measures that have been introduced, such as closure of public venues, will make it less likely for the virus to spread by people touching contaminated surfaces. However, if people continue to socialise with people they do not live with the virus can continue to spread despite these measures.

“It is important for people to continue to get exercise, to get basic necessities from supermarkets etc but they should do this on their own or with people who share the same household. That way if someone gets the infection it can only spread within the household.

“If someone gets infected they should isolate themselves for seven days from everyone, including members of the household if possible.

“Everybody in that household should isolate for 14 days even if they have no symptoms. If they do develop symptoms they should isolate for seven days from onset of symptoms. These measures ensure the virus cannot spread from that household.

“What we all do now will make a difference to the number of people who get infected and will reduce the numbers that need hospital admission. Pandemics develop rapidly so don’t wait to be personally affected or for someone you know to be affected. Act now to stop the spread to your family and friends. Avoid all unnecessary face to face contact. Keep in touch by other methods.”

More information can be found at www.northyorks.gov.uk/coronavirus