Healthcare news

Covid rates ‘likely to increase' in Northern Ireland this autumn

Chief medical officer Sir Michael McBride said that concern remained over new highly transmissible sub-classes of the Omicron variant which have been identified in the north
Jonathan McCambridge, PA

Covid-19 infection rates remain “stubbornly high” in Northern Ireland and are likely to increase again later in the year.

Chief medical officer Sir Michael McBride said that concern remained over new highly transmissible sub-classes of the Omicron variant which have been identified in the north.

He said that an increase in cases of the virus could place renewed pressures on the health service.

While all Covid restrictions have been eased in Northern Ireland, and daily reporting of case numbers has been discontinued, Sir Michael said the virus had not gone away.

He said: “Community transmission continues to decline slowly but remains at a stubbornly high level with some one in 60 people estimated as being infected with Covid-19.

“It is reasonable to anticipate that we will see in the foreseeable future a further increase in community cases and potentially some pressures on the health service as we see BA.4 BA.5 variants which are more transmissible and which have been identified in Northern Ireland, if they become the dominant sub-classes of the Omicron variant.

“I think that we are likely to see that bump in the road sometime in the autumn to winter.”

He added: “The picture in relation to Covid-19 has been transformed by vaccinations. The spring vaccination booster programme is ongoing at the minute, we have administered over 100,000 doses.

“If you are eligible for your booster, please come forward and get it when you are called.”

Chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young said a “considerable amount” of the virus was still in circulation in Northern Ireland.

He added: “People become infected in exactly the same way that they have done throughout this epidemic, through interaction with others, through close spaces where there is poor ventilation and people aren’t using face coverings.

“As we move into the warmer months, I would encourage everyone to open their windows and to interact with others outdoors as much as possible.

“It does seem likely that we will see a gradual continuing decline in the virus, but still more than 1% of the population are infected which remains historically a high level of infection.

“The real danger period will come as we move into the autumn and the winter and it is very likely that we will see an increase in the virus again in those months.”

Sir Michael said changed patterns of behaviour since the beginning of the Covid pandemic meant that there was now the risk of the re-emergence of some other viruses.

He said: “The last two years have been abnormal, both in terms of our mixing patterns and the steps we have been taking to protect each other from Covid.

“As a consequence of that we are seeing the re-emergence of some viruses which were not in circulation previously, and I think we are likely to see some of the manifestations of that in the next weeks and months as perhaps we see some uncommon and unusual presentations of common viruses, or we see individuals exposed to viruses that they haven’t been exposed to for some time and their immune system responding in a slightly atypical way.”

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access