Devon’s director of public health has said ‘hope is on the horizon’ as the number of new coronavirus cases in the county has started to stabilise.
But Steve Brown has urged residents to stay at home and be extra careful when they need to go out.
He added that an increase in Covid-related deaths is expected to continue for ‘several more weeks to come’.
Infection rates in Devon have dipped below the 200 per 100,000 people mark and have fallen for six days in a row.
Mr Brown said: “The steep rise in Covid cases we have seen since Christmas now looks like it’s beginning to level off in Devon and our numbers are stabilising.
“That is down to each and every person sticking to the spirit of the lockdown rules as much as they can to break the chain of transmission.
“Most people across Devon have responded really well yet again and I can only thank and applaud them as I know how difficult and dark a time this is for many.
“But even though the tide looks like it might be beginning to turn, I encourage everyone to keep it up, stay focussed and to each do our bit for a little while longer.
“Our hospitals are working flat-out, our care homes are battling to protect vulnerable older residents, and tragically we are still seeing an increase in the numbers of deaths.
“Sadly, this is likely to continue for several more weeks to come.”
Mr Brown added: “Hope is on the horizon. The vaccine programme is rapidly gathering pace and everyone in our care homes and the rest of the over-80s should have had the chance to have a first dose over the next few weeks.
“More community testing is also on the way for all those key workers who have to go out to work so we can find cases in people with no symptoms and so they can isolate and help break the chain of transmission and protect those they might come into contact with.
“But in the meantime, the advice is simple. The best way to do your bit is to stay home as much as you can and to think twice before leaving your home.
“Every time you leave your home you risk coming into contact with an infected person or touching a surface, door handle or petrol pump which may be contaminated.
“Any one of these interactions could be a crucial link in the chain of transmission which could lead to someone becoming seriously ill or dying from Covid-19.
“While there are times when we all need to make essential journeys for childcare, work, medical appointments and food, we also need to consider if other journeys are essential.
“And while it’s really important to take daily exercise in the fresh air for physical and mental wellbeing, please stay as close to home as possible – ideally start and finish your exercise at your front door – and if you meet another person from another household to join you on your exercise, make sure you stay two metres apart at all times.
“Staying at home and avoiding non-essential journeys and social contact are the most important steps we can all take to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
“Please, think very carefully before you leave your home and be absolutely certain that the journey you are about to make is essential. By doing this, we can all play a vital part in our fight against this horrendous disease.”
At upper-tier authority level, Devon now has the third lowest Covid-19 infection rate in England.