Northern Ireland could have ‘1,000 Covid-19 cases a day’ within a month

Chief scientific officer says current pattern needs to change as record 320 cases recorded

The decision to close pubs at 11pm has been taken in the context of the rise in the incidence of coronavirus cases, First Minister Arlene Foster said. Photograph: iStock.

The decision to close pubs at 11pm has been taken in the context of the rise in the incidence of coronavirus cases, First Minister Arlene Foster said. Photograph: iStock.

 

There is a risk of Northern Ireland recording 1,000 Covid-19 cases a day within a month if the current pattern continues, the North’s chief scientific officer has warned.

Prof Ian Young, who also said the virus “is going to be with us forever”, made his forecast on a day when the North’s Department of Health reported 320 additional cases of the disease, the highest daily number to date.

“The number of cases is doubling, probably around every nine to 10 days at present. In a month from now we would be at around 1,000 cases per day if we continued on current trends,” said Prof Young.

He said that if current restrictions did not reduce numbers, he and chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride would not hesitate in recommending that the Northern Executive impose stronger restrictions.

“The Covid virus is going to be with us forever, for the rest of our lives and the question is how much of it will there be,” said Prof Young, adding that to reach a low level of transmission a 70 per cent vaccination rate would be required once a vaccine is available.

Pub closing times

Prof Young issued his warning on a day when the First Minister Arlene Foster announced a new pub closing time of 11pm for Northern Ireland. This applies to bars, hotels, restaurants and cafes and guesthouse bars comes into effect from midnight on Wednesday.

No alcohol or food will be served after 10.30pm, said Ms Foster, allowing customers 30 minutes drinking and eating up time.

There had been concern in the Northern hospitality sector that the change, aimed at helping to reduce a rise in Covid-19 cases, might be brought in line with the 10pm closing time imposed in Britain.

There was an additional worry that in Border areas a 10pm closing time would give an advantage to pubs in the State, where bars and restaurants close at 11.30pm.

Northern Ireland has now recorded 11,269 Covid-19 cases in all and the department says there have been 578 related deaths. There are currently 59 patients sick with the disease in Northern Ireland’s hospitals, with eight of these being treated in intensive care units.

Necessary approach

Ms Foster told the Assembly that the Covid-19 restrictions were a “necessary and proportionate approach to address the increase in the number of Covid cases that we have witnessed since early July”.

“The intention behind the early closing time is that socialising later in the evening is considered to increase the risk of the virus spreading because people adhere to the rules less strictly after consuming alcohol and in venues where they are used to mixing freely,” she said.

“There can be no exceptions to this, so weddings and other important social events will also be required to comply.”

Economy Minister Diana Dodds warned that the North “simply cannot afford another lockdown”. She said Northern Ireland had seen around 9,000 redundancies during the pandemic and that with the furlough scheme ending next month there was “potential for a further spike in redundancies”.

“While we have to look after our health, we also need to learn to work and live knowing that this virus is in our communities,” she said.