A MAJOR incident has been declared across Somerset in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 as the death toll continues to rise. 

The declaration, made at a meeting of the Avon and Somerset Local Resilience Forum (LRF) on Thursday (March 19), is solely to make sure all agencies are able to work together more effectively as authorities face 'reduced staffing levels and an increase in demand.'

The coronavirus death toll in England has risen to 144 in the past 24 hours.

The Government announced on Wednesday that schools across the UK will close "until further notice" today (Friday) as nationally the number of confirmed cases has shot up to 3,269, as of March 19.

ACC Nikki Watson, chair of the LRF, said: “We are facing an unprecedented public health situation in this country and it’s more important than ever for public sector agencies and partner organisations to work together to deal with the challenges which may lie ahead.

“Declaring this a major incident simply allows us to put in place clear structures and mechanisms for multi-agency working and we’ll be calling on our tried and tested resilience plans to keep the public safe and well informed.

“This has not been initiated because of a significant rise in cases of COVID-19 in our area or because agencies are unable to cope – it’s a preventive measure enabling all agencies and organisations to respond as effectively as they can, even in the face of reduced staffing levels.

“I’d urge the public to continue following the advice from Public Health England and the Government around good hygiene, access to health services, social distancing and self-isolation.

“We’re lucky to have strong and resilient communities in Avon and Somerset and I’ve been greatly heartened by the schemes and initiatives already emerging from those who want to help the elderly and the vulnerable in their communities through the coming days and weeks.”