A COMMUNITY hospital has been put on stand-by as Hampshire braces itself for the peak of the coronavirus outbreak.

Lymington New Forest Hospital is run by the Totton-based Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, which says it is "well prepared" for the worst of the epidemic.

The New Forest is a popular retirement area and has a huge number of elderly people - one of the groups most at risk from Covid-19.

According to official figures, more than one in five Forest residents is aged over 70. Only four other parts of the UK have a higher percentage.

The coronavirus outbreak, which has already claimed more than 400 lives in the UK, is expected to peak in the next two to three weeks.

Older people are more at risk because they have weaker immune systems.

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They are also more likely to have underlying health conditions such as heart disease, lung problems and diabetes, which hamper the body’s ability to fight infectious diseases.

A Southern Health spokesperson said: “At Lymington New Forest Hospital we will be working to ensure we have as many beds as possible available to care for patients with severe respiratory problems.

“We will also be working closely with our community hospital teams, primary care services and social care providers to ensure patients can return home as soon as possible.”

Opened by Princess Anne in 2007, the hospital in Ampress Park, Wellworthy Road, has four in-patient wards and a recovery ward.

The Southern Health spokesperson added: “All NHS services are likely to come under intense pressure as the coronavirus spreads.

“Southern Health, alongside our local partners, will be working closely to ensure we can provide the support our local communities need.

“The NHS and Public Health England are well prepared for outbreaks of new infectious diseases.

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“Southern Health has put in place a number of measures to protect patients, our community and staff while ensuring as many services as possible are available to the public.”

As reported in the Daily Echo, the trust has banned people from visiting friends and relatives in hospital to help prevent the spread of coronsavirus. The restriction also covers mental health units run by the organisation.

However, the ban does not apply to people who want to spend precious time with patients receiving end-of-life care.