No 'premature action' advised as Covid-19 cases spike in North and Border areas

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Press Association
Northern Ireland’s health chiefs have warned against acting prematurely to quell coronavirus clusters in the north west of the region.

Derry and Strabane have seen a threefold increase in a week, driven by social gatherings, but experts helping steer the official response are awaiting the impact of recent restrictions before recommending more draconian measures.

Different households are banned from meeting up indoors.

There is a risk of acting prematurely

Top doctors advising Stormont ministers warned steps to apply “brakes” to the infection for a month like circuit-breaker lockdowns during school holidays could be considered.

Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said: “There is a risk of acting prematurely.

“The reduction in mixing in people’s households might begin to have an impact.

“It is a fairly significant measure that we have introduced.”

On Tuesday Northern Ireland recorded its highest daily total of infections since the current testing process was introduced.

A cross-Border spike in cases has led public health doctors to appeal for people not to cross the border with Donegal.

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Dr McBride said: “What it appears to be related to is a range of social interactions and gatherings.”

He added: “It is important that we give some time and space to assess the effectiveness of the intervention.

“I do not want to see any part of society subjected to more restrictions than necessary at this point in time.”

The North's Department of Health said 320 new cases of Covid-19 had been notified in Northern Ireland on Tuesday.

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

Key points to emerge from a briefing by Dr McBride and chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young included:

– Health chiefs are braced for a tough winter since it will be next year before adequate supplies of vaccine are available.

– Regular vaccination of around 70 per cent of the population will be needed to keep the infection under control.

– Self-isolation could be cut to 10 days with changes to testing.

– The number of contacts per positive case has risen to nearly four, but extra contact tracers are being recruited with 20 more signed up earlier this week.

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– The number of cases would double every 10 days without the recent restrictions, with 50 hospitalised daily.

– The number of older people infected is gradually rising.

Ballymena in Co Antrim has seen a reduction in its level of infections since further localised restrictions were introduced there and there are encouraging signs in Belfast.

Prof Young said: “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.”

To reach a very low level of transmission, occasional cases, we need to vaccinate 70 per cent of the population, he said.

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