RESIDENTS in Essex have been told they will be risking the lives of thousands of people if they defy the Government’s advice by not staying at home during the Covid-19 crisis.

Coronavirus has so far infected more than 5,600 people in the UK and 71 in Essex, resulting in 286 deaths nationwide.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reiterated the importance of staying at home in order to slow down the spread of the virus.

Essex County Council has since echoed the advice in a powerful email which has been sent to 70,000 people living in the county.

Within the stark warning, council leader David Finch suggested the mortality rate would only increase if people failed to take action.

“We are facing the biggest challenge of our time,” he said. “Coronavirus is a killer. If we do nothing, 500,000 people across our great country will die. But that horrendous outcome will not happen, provided we act.

“The Government has issued good advice but not all of us are following it, this is not good enough.

“We must heed the advice from Government to stay home as there is no doubt that this will save lives.

“Across Essex this weekend, we have seen people behaving in a way which was very much like going about their usual business and this is not acceptable.”

As part of the effort to stop the spread, schools across Essex and the country have now been closed to the main bulk of their students.

“The children of key workers and those with special educational needs or disabilities, however, are still allowed to attend.

“But some teachers have been reporting instances where parents are continuing to send their child to school, despite the fact they could stay at home.

Councillor Finch stressed that children not within the specified categories should only be going to school as a last resort.

He said: “Even though some schools across Essex will stay open, you should only take your children to them, if you have been notified that you are a critical worker and if you absolutely have no other option.”

Mr Finch has also expressed his concern for the strain being put on the NHS as a result of the rapid outbreak of the virus.

But he did suggest the county’s resilience and determination would see it come out the other side of the pandemic, as long as everyone plays their part in following the issued guidance.

“If the epidemic peaks, as it has in Italy, which has a world-class health system, the NHS will be overwhelmed,” he said.

“We must not allow the peak of the epidemic to outstrip the NHS’s capacity to care. Every single one of us can ensure that this nightmare scenario does not happen.

“In China and South Korea, the spread of the virus has been kept in check because governments acted quickly enough and people followed advice. Our great county has always risen to the challenges over the decades - this is the greatest one of our times.”