DORSET is on high alert over rapidly rising Covid infection rates amid fears "stressed" hospitals may struggle to cope with increased admissions.

A plea for residents to take measures to stop the spread has been issued by Public Health Dorset - as its director warned of the potential for restrictions to be put in place if the increase continues.

Dorset County Hospital said the vaccination programme should have a beneficial effect - however it is "conscious of additional pressure" as winter approaches.

Latest Government weekly figures, announced yesterday, show the rate of infection in the Dorset Council area is higher than that of Bournemouth Christchurch Poole (BCP) - both areas are seeing a rapid increase.

Dorset Council's case rate stands at 611.1 per 100 thousand people - up from 477.6 the previous week - while BCP's is 521.2, up from 376.6.

Director of Public Health Dorset, Sam Crowe, is now calling for residents to wear masks in indoor public areas - as well as urging people to carry out tests and ensure they have had both vaccinations.

Mr Crowe also said local hospital admissions have started to climb despite '"holding fairly steady in the last week."

"In our local system, which is already really stressed, we don't have much room for manoeuvre," he added. "Any additional admissions due to Covid just put more pressure on the hospital system, which is really trying hard to catch up with all of those people who have had delays to their urgent treatment during the pandemic."

Latest figures from NHS England show that 52 people were admitted to hospitals across the county with Covid-19 in the last week.

Meanwhile high numbers of cases among school-aged children are also causing concern - Public Health Dorset said infections are now spreading to parents and older age groups.

Last week Dorset's schools vaccination programme for children aged between 12 and 15 was put on hold due to staffing issues.

Members of the public are being asked to do three things to prevent cases from rising further.

Sam Crowe said: "Know your risk and understand that this is changing quite quickly with rising cases so think about those additional measures you can take to protect yourself and others.

"I'm asking you to act: airborne transmission is really crucial that's how the virus spreads, so think about those measures that can prevent that happening. If you're meeting indoors remember to keep doors and windows open, ventilation is really crucial. Wear a mask if you're mixing with other people you wouldn't normally mix with in enclosed indoor areas and remember the importance of distance as well.

"Finally protect, so remember lateral flow testing is really important for spotting early cases and asymptomatic cases of Covid. Also, if you haven't had your vaccination or you're not up to date with your second jab, please do look out for those opportunities to get fully vaccinated."

Mr Crowe also urged those who have been offered a booster jab to "please take up that opportunity."

"Over the next few weeks, I'm just asking you to do all you can to try to help us keep a lid on our cases," he added.

"None of us want to go back to that situation where we saw restrictions being brought in, we've got a small window now where if we act together, hopefully we can stave off the need to bring in more serious measures further down the line."

A spokesperson for Dorset County Hospital added: “While we expect the Covid-19 immunisation programme to have a beneficial effect on the rates of admission in comparison with early 2021, we are nonetheless conscious of additional pressure the current increases in cases will have on our hospital and staff as we head into winter.

“We continue to have stringent infection control and social distancing measures in place at our hospital in line with national guidance to keep the environment safe for our staff, patients and visitors.”