Northern Ireland has overtaken England to become the UK nation with the highest rate of new Covid-19 cases.
It is also the only one of the four nations, also including Scotland and Wales, that is recording a steady rise in rates.
A total of 9,832 new cases of Covid-19 were recorded in Northern Ireland in the seven days to July 21st – the equivalent of 519.2 cases per 100,000 people.
This is up sharply from 253.4 one week earlier and is the highest rate for Northern Ireland since January 9th, according to analysis by the PA news agency.
By contrast, England now has the second highest rate of the four UK nations and is sitting just behind Northern Ireland on 499.1 cases per 100,000 people.
While this is up week-on-week, the figure is slightly below the rates recorded for England in recent days.
Meanwhile, extra ICU beds are being made available in Belfast as hospitals struggle to cope with a surge in Covid-19 admissions.
Northern Ireland’s chief nursing officer Charlotte McArdle said beds for Belfast health trust patients are being made available at Belfast City Hospital due to capacity issues at the Royal Victoria and Mater hospitals.
Ms McArdle said the numbers in ICU had increased significantly in Northern Ireland over the weekend, with 27 Covid-19 patients in intensive care as of Sunday.
Ms McArdle said there was currently no plan to reopen the region-wide Nightingale facility at Belfast City Hospital but she warned that would become a “very real possibility” if the surge continues.
The senior nurse’s comments came after both the Belfast Trust and the South Eastern Trust issued emergency appeals to off-duty staff on Sunday to come in to work to help colleagues deal with the escalating situation.
Ms McArdle said around 60 per cent of those being admitted to hospital in Belfast had not been vaccinated.
She said an increasing number of young people were also being admitted to hospital with the disease.
In Northern Ireland, only 56 per cent of people aged 18-29 have come forward for vaccination to date, an uptake rate that is causing concern about senior health officials.
Meanwhile in other UK nations, Wales is also starting to show a drop in rates of new Covid-19 cases, with a figure of 184.1 cases per 100,000 people for the seven days to July 21st – down from 192.8 one week earlier.
The rate for Scotland has been falling steadily for the past few weeks, and stands at 215.3, down from a peak of 427.3 on July 3rd.
The fall in rates that is now under way in three of the four nations reflects the recent drop in the daily number of new reported cases for the whole of the UK.
However, the ongoing rise in rates in Northern Ireland is a reminder that the UK-wide figures can conceal variations between different nations.
Every local authority area in Northern Ireland is now recording a week-on-week rise in rates.
In Scotland only six of the 32 local areas are recording a rise, and in Wales only eight of the 22 local areas have seen rates increase week-on-week.
Of the 315 local authority areas in England, 270 (86 per cent) are still showing a week-on-week rise in rates.
This is because the fall in cases reported in recent days has yet to show up in the weekly figures.