Northern Ireland news

Strong case for 'co-ordinated action across north and south of Ireland' to hunt down coronavirus

Professor Gabriel Scally. Picture Mark Marlow.

A leading medical expert has highlighted research showing the coronavirus advice followed by the Republic of Ireland's government has lead to fewer deaths than the advice followed by Stormont.

The Republic has followed the advice of the World Health Organisation while Northern Ireland had followed the policy set by the British government. 

Dr Gabriel Scally, president of the Epidemiology and Public Health section of the Royal Society of Medicine, referred to research carried out by Professor Michael Tomlinson who said that "the death rate for Covid-19 deaths in hospital (and for all Covid-19 deaths) is 50% higher in Northern Ireland than in the Republic of Ireland."

Tomlinson, an emeritus professor of social policy at Queen’s University Belfast, said that "there is now strong evidence of two Covid-19 death rates on the island of Ireland."

Writing in The Irish Times he said "the Republic’s death rate is two-thirds that in the North."

He said: "This may change as the pandemic progresses but for now it is reasonable to assume that the North’s higher death rates result from lower rates of testing, the lack of contact tracing and the slower application of lockdown measures compared with the Republic." 

"The evidence underlines the case for co-ordinated action across the island to hunt down the virus through high levels of testing and contact tracing and for stronger public-health surveillance at points of entry."

Update: FactCheckNI has argued that the “two thirds” claim made by Tomlinson cannot be substantiated from the data available. It concludes that there are no common measurements that can be combined to build a fully accurate all-Ireland picture of deaths in hospital (or total deaths).  

Alan Meban from FactCheck NI said: Tomlinson may be correct in saying that the different approaches to tackling the COVID-19 outbreak are resulting in different outcomes on either side of the border. However, the existing public statistics do not provide clear evidence of the size of the gap between death rates north and south given their lack of comparability.

He points our that statistics published daily by the Irish Department of Health count deaths of people in hospital within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test.

The statistics for Northern Ireland, however, from the daily Public Health Agency surveillance reports (now produced by the Department of Health) include deaths of anyone who had tested positive whether they died in hospital or elsewhere.

Last week, Dr Scally called for an all-island exit strategy from lockdown to avoid “further waves of infection and death”.

He said it is vital that plans for Northern Ireland and the Republic are “compatible with, and supportive of, each other”.

"The north, following the lead given from the decision makers in Whitehall, ended its programme of testing and tracing in the community," he said.

"In contrast the south has continued, despite the problems of laboratory supplies, to increase the reach and volume of testing and tracing.

"It is becoming ever more apparent, even to some in Whitehall, that the absence of community testing is a major problem and that it will need to be resumed (and at a high volume).

"The two parts of Ireland should work hand in hand to develop, as rapidly as possible, a robust network of local teams, locations for community testing and the IT and laboratory capacity that will be needed.

"The second requirement for a highly effective plan will be a jointly agreed and uniformly implemented approach to public health controls at ports and airports."

Today the death rate across Ireland surpassed 1,000.

Stormont today reported a total of 250 deaths, a "significant increase" on the previous day's tally of 216.

In the Republic, a further 49 people who had been diagnosed with Covid-19 passed away, bringing the total number of deaths to 769.

Read More: Dr Gabriel Scally: Further waves of infection and death if north and south differ





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