COVID-19 infection rates in Wiltshire are skyrocketing to a record high – almost doubling in a week and around 50 per cent higher than the national average.

The rates are at their highest among the 10-19 age group, students who are then passing the virus onto school staff and to their own families, and health chiefs have now called on families to consider restricting treat or treating for Halloween.

Figures issued by Wiltshire Council reveal that the total number of cases across the county is 45,656.

There have been 3,024 cases in Wiltshire in the last seven days to October 18 – and the county’s major hospitals at Swindon and Salisbury say they have 93 patients needing treatment, of which nine are in intensive care.

The increase in infections, reported to be a record high, is causing concern as the Wiltshire rate of cases per 100,000 in the last seven days is 600 [599.9], almost twice the rate for the previous seven days, 338.2.

The Wiltshire rate is also significantly higher, by approaching 50 per cent, than the rate of cases per 100,000 in England in the last seven days, 424.

The rapid rise in Covid-19 infections has led Wiltshire Council to advise schools to bring back classroom bubbles. The authority has recommended cancelling school assemblies, wearing face masks in communal areas and reducing mixing, advising social distancing and "good infection control amongst staff due to the large numbers of staff who are contracting the virus".

Kate Blackburn, Wiltshire’s director of health, said: "We recommend a focus on these four areas from now and for 14 days following half term whilst we review.

"We understand the importance of keeping schools open and we believe by introducing these measures at these key points will help keep infection down."

Wiltshire Council public health consultant, Rachel Kent said: “There has been a considerable increase in Covid-19 cases in the last week or so. Case rates continue to be the highest among the 10-19 age range and schools are being hit particularly hard.

“Not only are large amounts of pupils getting the virus, but it’s impacting staff as well, which is making the running of the schools challenging. We are also seeing a pattern of children passing it onto their parents and those they live with.

“If we all continue to follow the tried and tested simple effective measures, then it doesn’t need to be inevitable that Covid-19 will continue to spread at the rate it is doing.

“We urge that people continue to wash and sanitise hands regularly, isolate and book a PCR test when displaying any symptoms, take lateral flow tests regularly, wear a mask when in crowded indoor spaces and get the vaccine and booster vaccine when offered.

“With half term underway we ask that people continue to be sensible and cautious when arranging to take part in activities such as trick or treating."

"Lots of people have Covid and case rates are extremely high, so each individual should consider their own circumstances before deciding if they should meet up with different families and have gatherings to celebrate Halloween.”

The situation is being worsened by Wiltshire ambulances experiencing delays in getting patients into A&E departments. NHS figures have revealed that South West Ambulance Service has the longest response time for life-threatening and emergency incidents in England.

Figures show SWAS took on average 11 minutes to respond to life-threatening incidents in September when the NHS target is seven minutes. The service’s head says longer ambulance wait times have been caused by delays in handing patients over to A&E departments.

SWAS's chief executive Will Warrender told Radio Wiltshire: "We're seeing many, many ambulances in different hospitals across the region stacked outside. That has an impact not just on the patients that we want to get into hospital, but it also on patients that we can't get to because we are stuck outside hospitals."