Mystery of Weston-super-Mare's Covid-19 outbreak: Officials investigating spike ...

The cause of a Covid-19 outbreak in Weston-super-Mare which forced health chiefs to shut the only hospital remains a mystery.

But furious residents say it could be due to tourists flocking to the beach to enjoy the sunny weather - and scientists agree.

Infectious disease experts also say the spike in coronavirus cases could be down to an unreported clusters of care home cases. 

Weston General Hospital stopped taking hospital admissions and A&E patients from 8am yesterday, citing a 'high number' of Covid-19 patients. 

Local media say it has seen double the amount of coronavirus patients in a week and reports claim up to 40 per cent of staff have recently received a positive test.

But the town's MP, who today confirmed an outbreak, said the hospital was 'not full' and had closed for a deep clean, while officials are 'running tests' to determine the cause. 

The unprecedented closure of the hospital's doors has been blamed on day-trippers to the coast since the lockdown was loosened two weeks ago. 

Angry residents say 'it's not rocket science' - cases have risen because crowds are unable to stay socially distanced at the beach.

Weston-super-Mare's mayor even admitted 'you can't rule it out', when questioned if scores of Britons on the beach were the cause of a surge in cases. 

Weston-super-Mare's Covid-19 outbreak remains shrouded in mystery - but scientists and residents say it could be due to tourists flocking to the beach (pictured yesterday)

Weston-super-Mare's Covid-19 outbreak remains shrouded in mystery - but scientists and residents say it could be due to tourists flocking to the beach (pictured yesterday)

Angry residents say 'it's not rocket science' - cases have risen because crowds are unable to stay socially distanced at the beach. Pictured: The promenade yesterday

Angry residents say 'it's not rocket science' - cases have risen because crowds are unable to stay socially distanced at the beach. Pictured: The promenade yesterday 

The seaside town's hospital, Weston General, stopped taking hospital admissions and A&E patients from 8am yesterday, citing a 'high number' of COVID-19 patients

The seaside town's hospital, Weston General, stopped taking hospital admissions and A&E patients from 8am yesterday, citing a 'high number' of COVID-19 patients

Weston-super-Mare is in Somerset, the South West. The region has been the least affected by the coronavirus so far

Weston-super-Mare is in Somerset, the South West. The region has been the least affected by the coronavirus so far 

Weston General Hospital, which has 250 beds, dramatically announced yesterday morning that it could not take any more admissions. 

Today it has urged patients with appointments to not travel to the hospital, and has also set out rules on when people can visit amid the 'temporary' shutdown.

A statement said the hospital 'currently has a high number of patients with Covid-19'. But it did not provide exact numbers.

Somerset Live claims it saw a message reportedly sent to NHS staff that said more than 64 patients have tested positive in the hospital.

The message, which the NHS trust has yet to deny is fake, said only 30 patients had tested positive at the beginning of last week. 

And the newspaper claimed the leaked memo said testing of staff, including workers without any symptoms, has revealed '40 per cent as COVID-19 positive'. 

WESTON HOSPITAL STAFF 'WORRIED AND CONFUSED'

Staff at the NHS Weston General Hospital are 'worried and confused', according to a major trade union.   

Liz French, a representative for Unison, told the BBC: 'They're confused, they're worried but I have to say they are pulling together to do their best for their patients and all their colleagues. 

'It's not just the patients that have been diagnosed with Covid-19 but also lots of the staff because they've done lots of testing over the past week or so.

'They were unhappy but they were getting on with their jobs.'

Ms French said staff felt there was a lack of communication from hospital bosses.

'Although the senior management team were meeting every couple of days to discuss the way forward but that wasn't getting down to the staff.

'That was the biggest problem and that's why they were so worried," she said.

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There is speculation the hospital is struggling to put protective procedures in place, with the message to NHS staff reportedly saying: 'Discussions... have all concluded that there is no mitigation that can be put in place to safely manage and maintain operations at Weston.' 

Dr William Oldfield, medical director at University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, said 'all hospitals have frequent changes in admissions'.

But the move came as a shock because only one other hospital has had to take such drastic steps during the outbreak - and that was a London hospital two weeks before the peak of the pandemic.

And the South West - which also covers the tourist-hotspots of Devon and Cornwall - has been the least affected region in the UK.  

'The temporary closure of Weston General Hospital is concerning,' Dr Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, told MailOnline.

'Especially at a time when we are expecting to see new Covid-19 cases to remain at low levels. 

'It's difficult to be sure of the reasons why the hospital experienced this sudden increase. 

'This could be simply natural fluctuations of caseloads that you can expect to see during an outbreak, or this could be a consequence of increased visitors into the town from a couple of weeks ago with onward local transmission.'

Mark Canniford, Lib Dem mayor of Weston and member of North Somerset Council, criticising the 'total disregard' for the town's residents from day-trippers

Mark Canniford, Lib Dem mayor of Weston and member of North Somerset Council, criticising the 'total disregard' for the town's residents from day-trippers

Professor Paul Hunter said: 'With the increase in visitor numbers – more people who are still infected are going to the town and spreading the infection to other visitors and locals'

Professor Paul Hunter said: 'With the increase in visitor numbers – more people who are still infected are going to the town and spreading the infection to other visitors and locals'

WHY DOES THE SOUTH WEST HAVE SO FEW DEATHS? 

The South West, which includes Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset, has had the fewest COVID-19 deaths in England (1,157).  

This will be for a number of reasons including those based on the region's geographical demographics, such as the fact it is largely rural - with the  second-highest proportion of rural population in the UK - and less densely populated than other parts of England.

Population density plays a significant role in infection rate, and therefore deaths. London has had 26,780 confirmed COVID-19 cases compared to the South West's 7,524.  

Data released by the Office for National Statistics on 1 May found the fatality rate of COVID-19 is six times higher among those living in major cities than in rural areas. No rural area of England and Wales had a death rate higher than 21.9 at the time of the study.

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The ethnicity, and income of wealthy and predominantly white South West citizens may partially explain the lower infections and deaths. The region has

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