Northern Ireland news

Complacency blamed for north west's alarming spike in Covid-19 cases

The giant Tinnies sculptures on the Strabane/Lifford border have been wearing masks and scrubs, created by O'Neills of Strabane, in tribute to health care workers. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Seamus McKinney

COMPLACENCY following the north west’s success in combating the first wave of coronavirus could explain this week’s spike in cases, a Derry GP has said.

Tom Black, Northern Ireland chairman of the British Medical Association, said doctors saw the startling rise in infections coming as far back as two weeks ago as they were dealing with many more patients presenting with symptoms.

Derry, Donegal and Tyrone have gone from being one of the areas with the fewest Covid-19 cases to recording the highest rates on the island, forcing the Irish government to put Co Donegal under tighter restrictions.

The decision will have a major impact on the north west where cross-border travel is part of everyday life.

Border towns such as Bridgend, Muff and Killea are essentially satellites of Derry, with people travelling in both directions in their thousands for work and education.

The area around Lifford and east Donegal along with Strabane appears to be the epicentre of the current spike, although high numbers have also been reported in Derry.

The Lifford/Stranorlar area recorded a rate of 336 cases per 100,000 people in the last week.

In Letterkenny, the figure was 80.6 per 100,000, while south Inishowen - which adjoins Derry - has a rate of just 58.1.

However, the Derry and Strabane council area now has by far the highest rate north of the border with 160.6 cases per 100,000 people.

Dr Black said he believes people became complacent about Covid-19 after the north west had done relatively well during the first wave.

“Schools, work all had an impact but my own feeling is that it was a lot of localised socialising. People worked very hard in the first wave. We went from being one or two weeks behind the rest of the UK to being one of two weeks ahead now," he said.

“In the first wave we talked about flattening the curve. Now we must reduce transmission. I would appeal to young people in particular not to pass the virus on to elderly or sick relatives. Adhere to the travel advice."

Anthony Breslin, director of public medicine for the Republic’s Health Service Executive North, put the spike down to a number of factors, including cross border travel and an increase in socialising.

He also said christening, communion and confirmation parties as well as wakes have had an impact.

In Strabane, independent councillor Paul Gallagher said the rise in cases was already having a “devastating” impact on the town.

News of the tougher restrictions in Donegal also sparked a wave of cancellations in hotels and restaurants across the county.

Donegal Airport at Carrickfinn also confirmed it was suspending flights to Glasgow in an effort to curtail the spread of the virus.

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