As many as one in 40 people may have coronavirus in some parts of Northern Ireland, the region’s chief scientific adviser has warned.
Prof Ian Young said one in 100 had a Covid-19 diagnosis in the last week, but that is likely to be an under-representation of the true number of cases because many people are asymptomatic and are not diagnosed.
He said the Mid Ulster Council area had the largest number of cases within the last week, followed by the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council area.
“It’s very likely that in parts of Northern Ireland there are as many as one person in 40 who currently has Covid … in those local government districts which currently have the highest incidence of the virus,” he told the BBC.
“Mid Ulster is the part which at the moment has the largest number of cases within the last week but there are some other local government districts which are not far behind that.”
Prof Young also warned that the recent doubling in case numbers will translate to the number of hospital patients with the virus.
Figures published on Wednesday showed hospital capacity in the North at 102 per cent, with 592 Covid-confirmed inpatients, 44 of whom are being treated in intensive care.
Prof Young said that figure could rise to more than 1,000.
“In the past we have had around 500 hospital inpatients being treated for Covid; 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, those numbers could rise even further beyond that,” he said.
He urged the public to listen to the stay at home message as new lockdown measures are set to become law on Friday.
“My message to everyone in Northern Ireland is to please, please listen to the stay at home message which we are trying to give,” he said.
“People should only be leaving their home for essential purposes, if they really need to. We all need to minimise our contacts.”
The Stormont Executive had been due to meet on Thursday but that meeting was postponed to Friday following family bereavements affecting two ministers.
However, the North's Health Minister Robin Swann said on Thursday that confusion around the rules concerning outdoor gatherings will be “tidied up” later.