AN unprecedented appeal from Cumbrian leaders for people to stay local was prompted in part by reports of people flocking to the Lake District to enjoy the scenic winter landscape.

With infection rates across the county - and particularly in Carlisle - soaring, local leaders joined forces to publish an open letter. It urges everybody to save lives by not going for days out.

Lockdown rules mean rule-breakers can be punished with hefty on-the-spot fines.

All of the county's MPs have signed the letter, as well as senior public figures such as Cumbria Tourism boss Gill Haigh, the most senior manager at North Cumbria's two acute hospitals Lyn Simpson, and Chief Constable Michelle Skeer.

"Last weekend [in the Lake District] was busy, and with the ice and the frost it's particularly scenic at the moment," she said.

"We have had people travelling into the county and that's why we're appealing and putting this message out.

"We know that we need tourists in this county. But now is not the right time. We're saying please come back when we're covid-safe and free of this virus. We'll welcome you back with open arms."

There were reports over the weekend of Lake District car parks being full and it had also been busy over Christmas. Many locals have also taken to social media to complain about number of visitors in recent weeks.

When Cumbria was in Tier 4, Keswick woman Donna StClaire posted this: "We still have visitors even after Tier 4. I include people from other parts of the county in this comment. The advice is to stay local to where you live."

Mrs Skeer added: "We have to listen to Government guidance. The scientists are advising the Government that the only we're going to break the transmission of this horrendous virus is by heeding the science and limiting contact between all of us.

"It's about sticking to the rules. The open letter is about saying look folks: it doesn't get any more serious than this. We have lost enough people in this county and nationally. Everybody will know somebody who's been affected by this terrible virus.

"We should all be trying to stay at home as much as we can."

The open letter says: "Whilst it may be tempting to go out for a scenic drive in the Lake District, now is the time to stay home, look after one another and play your part to make sure that Cumbria is ready for the return of visitors when it is safe to do so."

Throughout today, England's Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty has warned that the country is now facing the "worst weeks" of the pandemic. Appearing on the BBC, Professor Whitty also cautioned that he did not believe the UK was yet at the peak of the current third wave. He urged everybody to follow lockdown rules in a bid to stop the NHS from being overwhelmed. He said: “At the peak we had back in April last year, we had about 18,000 people in the NHS.

"We currently, as of yesterday, have over 30,000 people in the NHS [hospitals]."

He urged people to take personal responsibility to avoid spreading the virus and so save lives.