North on track to have more than 1,000 in hospital receiving Covid-19 treatment
Another 17 deaths and 1,410 new coronavirus cases reported in North
Over 11,280 cases of Covid-19 were reported in the past week in Northern Ireland. File photograph: Getty Images
With the number of coronavirus patients passing the 1,000 figure for the first time in the Republic on Thursday Prof Young said it could soon be a similar, and possibly worse, situation in Northern Ireland.
While the North’s population is less than two-fifths that of the Republic Prof Young said it was on track to have more than 1,000 Covid-19 hospitalised patients.
His comments came as the North’s health department reported hospital bed occupancy was at 103 per cent with 599 patients receiving Covid-19 treatment in Northern Ireland hospitals and 44 in intensive care. There are 32 on ventilators.
The department also reported 17 more Covid-19 deaths and 1,410 new cases of the virus in its daily bulletin.
That brings Northern Ireland’s coronavirus death toll to 1,414 and the total number of cases since the outbreak of the pandemic to 84,646.
There were 11,287 positive cases reported in the past week.
“In the past we have had around 500 hospital inpatients being treated for Covid,” Prof Young told BBC Radio Ulster.
“We could easily before the end of this month rise to 1,000 or more, and indeed, depending on the impact of the new variant (of coronavirus), those numbers could rise even further beyond that,” he added.
On Thursday a number of health trusts which manage Northern Ireland hospitals said they were cancelling operations in order to free up staff to deal with the surge in coronavirus cases.
The Belfast health trust, which manages hospitals such as the Royal Victoria and City, said it would “rearrange this surgery as soon as possible and we will do everything we can to ensure continuity of care throughout this challenging time”.
“We are also actively considering moving many outpatient appointments to virtual appointments in order to reduce footfall on our sites and to encourage the public to stay home whenever possible,” it added.
Meanwhile, the DUP is embroiled in a row with some other parties over whether any primary school transfer tests should take place this year.
The annual tests are operated by two companies, the Association for Quality Education (AQE) and the Post Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC), and determine what pupils should be allowed enrol in grammar schools which participate in these academic selection exams.
Due to Covid the PPTC cancelled its tests this week while AQE said it would hold a single transfer test on February 27th, public health conditions permitting.
The AQE decision was criticised by Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance which said that tests should be cancelled because of coronavirus.
The Northern Executive was to debate the issue on Thursday but that meeting was put back to Friday because of bereavements affecting two Ministers,
DUP MP for Lagan Valley Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said it was “deeply sad” that some parties “seem to be 100 per cent focused on using the pandemic to advance their political objective of undermining academic selection”.
“This should not be a debate about selection. It should be about public safety. There is no question of the transfer test going ahead if the public health conditions at that time do not permit it,” he said.
Mr Donaldson insisted however that transfer tests were a “legitimate choice being made by parents and schools”.
“Those who want to use the pandemic to stop academic selection should be honest and outline their real objective is to close grammar schools and stop hiding behind other arguments,” he said.