Covid cases rise 'significantly' in all age groups in South West
Watch Sam Blackledge's report on rising Covid cases in Devon
Covid cases in the South West are on the rise, with some NHS bosses warning people should continue to take precautions, despite the change in government guidance.
Last month all laws around self isolation and mask wearing were axed, around which time it was predicted that there would be a national rise in cases.
Many of the cases are being identified in hospitals - one of the few remaining places where people are regularly tested for coronavirus.
Patients are going in for unrelated treatments and have a Covid test as part of their admission, where they are testing positive. The infection control needed as a result is putting additional pressure on hospitals.
In the South West, Devon is one of the worst hit areas, but cases in Somerset are also on the rise.
The latest figures released by the NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group show case rates in Devon, Plymouth and Torbay are around 750 per 100,000 people - above the England average of around 465 cases per 100,000 people.
The figures show the number of people in Devon's hospitals is at its highest point for more than a year, with some trusts reporting a record number of Covid positive inpatients.
At the start of this week there were 297 Covid inpatients in hospitals across Devon. This is the highest number since January last year - and a number that has almost doubled in the last month alone.
At Torbay Hospital there are currently 52 positive inpatients - the highest number at any point since the pandemic began.
Ian Currie, medical director at Torbay & South Devon NHS Trust, said the two wards dedicated to treating Covid patients in the hospital are currently full.
"We also have Covid positive patients on nine other wards, which is causing us significant challenges", he said.
"Clearly we don't want to bring non-Covid patients into that ward, so it has to be closed which can really restrict the number of patients we can treat and is causing a significant problem."
The data shows most people classed as Covid positive went into hospital for something completely unrelated, but a routine test turned out a positive result so their beds and wards need to be isolated, causing further blockages in the system.
Cornwall & The Isles of Scilly
The latest figures from Cornwall & The Isles of Scilly is 678 per 100,000, taken from data released on 15 March.
Last week, the Royal Cornwall Hospital announced it would stop all ward visits, due a "significant increase" in Covid cases.
The hospital says that although the "vast majority" of the people testing positive were admitted for another reason, many of their wards have been unable to take new admissions as a result.
Covid rates have doubled at hospitals in Somerset since the beginning of the month, with the latest data showing nearly 150 people are being treated with the virus.
On March 1 there were 63 patients testing positive in Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton but two weeks on this number has almost doubled to 149.
The latest figures in North Somerset show around 692 people per 100,000 have the virus, and in South Somerset, the figure is 930 per 100,000.
A spokesperson for Somerset NHS Foundation Trust and Yeovil District Hospital said: “Over the past few weeks we have seen an increase in the number of inpatients who are testing positive for COVID-19 across our services, as well as an increase in community prevalence rates.
“This impacts in a number of ways, including responsible visiting arrangements, delays to patients being discharged from hospital and the postponement of some patients’ procedures – a decision that we never take lightly.
“Many patients who attend and stay in our hospitals are vulnerable so we continue to have a series of strict infection prevention and control measures in place at all healthcare sites, such as wearing a mask, gelling or washing hands and continuing to socially distance.
“We would advise people that if they have any symptoms of COVID-19, they should not visit a healthcare setting unless they have an urgent clinical need. Click here for more information on COVID-19 symptoms, and what to do if you have them.”
The most recent figures in Bristol show there are 850 cases per 100,00 people, taken from figures released by the council during the week of 17 March.
A spokesperson for Bristol City Council said: "Covid-19 and variants of the virus are highly infectious and the future remains uncertain."
"We encourage everyone to continue to do the still small things that, collectively, make a big difference; getting vaccinated, good hand hygiene, wearing a face covering in crowded or enclosed spaces and staying at home if you feel unwell."
University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust has been contacted for comment.
Watch David Wood discuss the rapid increase in Covid cases
Analysis from David Wood
Last month all laws around self isolation and mask wearing were axed and turned into guidance. It was predicted that would lead to a rise in cases, especially as it coincided with schools in the West Country returning from half term.
What we have seen in recent weeks is a significant rise in cases in all age groups and the reality is that case numbers are likely to be far higher than are being reported as changes to the testing rules we're expected to follow mean many people aren't in fact reporting their test results.
One of the few places people are regularly tested for Covid is our hospitals so many cases in our health care settings are people who have gone in for treatment for something else and had a covid test as part of their admission. Of course this adds to the pressures on hospitals as they need to isolate infectious patients.
This is why comparisons to previous spikes are hard and the Covid situation and its severity are very different. Labour politicians are questioning whether the Government isn't keeping control of the virus as well as it should be, but ministers argue that living with Covid is something we have to do now as there is no total eradication of it.
Cases in the South West are higher than in other parts of England, however infection rates in Scotland are much higher, there the First Minster has extended mask wearing laws, rather than removing them like in England.
Soon people most vulnerable to Covid will start to receive invitations for another Covid booster which is another strand of the 'living with Covid' strategy. The other part of the strategy is to end access to free testing for us all to order which stops on the April 1.