Covid-19: Health authorities warn North at start of ‘significant further wave’

Modelling shows North could be facing up to 3,000 new cases per day by beginning of August

Health authorities warned on Wednesday that Northern Ireland was in the "early stages of a significant further wave" of Covid-19 amid a push to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

“[Vaccination is] how we will ensure more people are protected, that’s how we will reduce the peak of this now fourth wave, and that’s how we will reduce the number of people that end up in hospital,” said the North’s chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride.

Modelling published by chief scientific officer Prof Ian Young on Wednesday showed under the "most likely" scenario that the North could be facing 2000-3,000 new cases per day towards the beginning of August.

Northern Ireland Department of Health figures have shown a sharp increase in the number of new Covid-19 cases in recent weeks.


Prof Young said the average number of new cases per day was “increasing very steeply and very rapidly” and the trajectory was “strongly upwards”.

This is being driven “predominantly by cases in younger age groups”, he said, with most new cases occurring in the 18-30 age group, followed by the 11 to 18s and then 30-40-year-olds.

In the last seven days 3,054 people have been confirmed to have Covid-19 in the North, compared with 1,899 the week before. It was reported on Wednesday that a total of 570 people tested positive for Covid-19 in the last 24 hours.

The number of people needing hospital treatment for Covid-19 is also increasing, with 43 inpatients with the disease, four of whom are in intensive care, as of midnight on Tuesday.

“It is inevitable that as cases increase so admissions and bed occupancy in hospitals will increase followed by patients requiring critical care treatment and unfortunately deaths,” Prof Young said.

“The increase is going to be less than in previous waves because vaccination has weakened the link between case numbers and hospital admissions but it hasn’t abolished it.”

Vaccination effect

The modelling published by Prof Young also showed the number of inpatients would peak at 400 people in hospital with Covid-19 at the end of August or the start of September, with the total number hospitalised between 500-600.

“If things went badly, if vaccine uptake was poor and if people did not adhere to the mitigations that were in place, then we could be running at up to three to 8,000 cases per day in a more pessimistic scenario,” he said.

This assumes that the spread of the Delta variant – which currently accounts for “well over” 80 per cent of cases in the North – is at close to 100 per cent, and 85 per cent of adults have had their first vaccine dose by the end of July.

However if vaccine uptake is increased so that 90 per cent of adults have had their first dose by the end of July, the modelling showed the peak number of cases would be cut by approximately half.

On hospital numbers, Prof Young said that could be cut to “a little less than 200 by getting that extra five per cent of the population to come forward for vaccination.

“What is going to happen is heavily dependent, heavily influenced by the extent to which we get adults to come forward for vaccination during the rest of July,” Prof Young said.

The vaccination programme in Northern Ireland is open to everyone aged 18 and over with no appointment necessary.

Among the over 40s 93 per cent of people have currently had a first dose of the vaccine, but that figure falls to 53 per cent among the 18-28 year-olds and 67 per cent among those aged between 30 and 39.

Walk-in mobile vaccination clinics are operating in a number of areas in order to try and increase vaccine uptake amongst young people.

These include the Whitla Hall at Queen's University, Belfast, as well as shopping centres and sports grounds and venues.

Health authorities also warned that vaccination was the best way to protect the North’s health service, which is under currently significant pressure.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times