Coronavirus: Northern Ireland may soon need localised restrictions, expert warns

Prof Ian Young says rising level of infection in the North is of ‘considerable concern’

Sign advising customers at a store in Belfast to wear masks. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Sign advising customers at a store in Belfast to wear masks. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

Localised restrictions to prevent the further spread of coronavirus could soon be required in certain areas in Northern Ireland, the North’s chief scientific adviser has warned.

“I think we’re getting close to the point where certainly in those areas with the highest level of cases . . . we may have to consider whether any additional local measures are required,” Prof Ian Young told BBC Radio Ulster on Monday.

He also said Northern Ireland was “undoubtedly seeing Covid fatigue and that feeds into complacency”, and for that reason public health messages had to be consistently emphasised. “We need them to become embedded in people’s lives,” he said.

According to the most recent figures from the North’s Department of Health, released on Monday, 302 new cases of coronavirus have been identified in the North in the last week.

A total of 39 new cases had been confirmed in the last 24 hours, the department reported, bringing the total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the North since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic to 6,430.

No further coronavirus-related deaths were recorded over the weekend in the North, with the total number of such fatalities reported by the department remaining at 558.

In the last week the highest number of new cases was identified in the Mid and East Antrim area, where 73 people tested positive for the virus. There were 71 new cases in Belfast, and 41 in Antrim and Newtownabbey.

‘Considerable concern’

Prof Young said the rising numbers of infections were a “considerable concern”, and represented a “tenfold increase” in the figures seen in late June and early July.

Asked if “local lockdowns” could be implemented in the North, he said that lockdown was “absolutely not a word I like in this context”, but there could be “additional local measures – some of that would include local restrictions, I think, and that’s the type of approach which we’ve seen used in other countries”.

The nature of these restrictions, he said, “would depend very much on the area concerned and the extent to which the virus is transmitting in that area and what we understand are the most likely sources of infection in that area.

“There’s not a one size fits all approach for this, it has to be on a case by case basis if it becomes required.”

Prof Young added that the rate of infection was not the same throughout the North, and for this reason “I don’t think we’re at the point where we’d be considering measures across the whole of Northern Ireland.

“There are still many parts of NI where as a result of public behaviours and other factors the level of virus remains at a low level.”

The lowest infection rate in the last seven days was in the Fermanagh and Omagh area, where two new cases were confirmed.

News Digests

Stay on top of the latest newsSIGN UP HERE