CORONAVIRUS has been linked to the deaths of at least 168 people in Dorset care homes since the start of the crisis, new figures have revealed.

The Independent Care Group has called for a 'short, sharp lockdown' to curb the spread of infection in care homes nationally, as fatalities in care homes across England and Wales rose for the fifth week in a row.

Office for National Statistics data shows that 162 deaths involving Covid-19 were provisionally registered in the Dorset Council area up to October 17.

Of those, 87 occurred outside hospital – including 77 in care homes and two at private homes. A further eight deaths occurred in hospices, other community establishments or elsewhere.

It means the area has managed to avoid any further care home deaths since July 18. Meanwhile, there was one more hospice death over the period.

There were also 192 provisionally registered in the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) area over the same period. Of those, 102 occurred outside hospital – including 91 in care homes and nine at private homes. A further two deaths occurred in hospices, other community establishments or elsewhere. There were three care home deaths recorded since July 18 and one more hospice death.

Across England and Wales, 53,789 deaths involving Covid-19 were provisionally registered up to October 17. Of those, 29% (15,747) were in care homes and just under two-thirds in hospital.

In the week ending October 9, there were 63 care home deaths across the two countries which mentioned 'novel coronavirus' on the death certificate. That was the fifth consecutive weekly increase and the largest number seen since July, although the ONS said this was still below pre-pandemic levels.

Mike Padgham, chairman of the Independent Care Group, said: "We are now starting to see more significant increases in the number of Covid-19 deaths in care and nursing homes and we have to act quickly.

"At the moment we have people travelling all over the place, from areas of high infection rate to low areas, so the virus is bound to spread and spread.

"It is regrettable, but I feel the only way is to lock down again and protect our oldest and most vulnerable in particular, until we can regain control."

Deaths in all settings have steadily risen across England and Wales amid soaring positive case numbers – 438 Covid-related fatalities were registered in the seven days to October 9, the largest rise in a single week since early July.

Sarah Scobie, deputy director of research at the Nuffield Trust health think tank, said it is not a surprising to see the number of deaths attributed to Covid-19 creep upwards, as more areas of the country face stricter curbs on socialising.

Meanwhile, the NHS Confederation said it is too early to tell whether the Government’s interventions are having an impact.

Nick Ville, director of policy, said: “Some hospitals are already having to scale back the number of non-urgent procedures they are able to perform and plan for because of growing cases of the disease."