Northern Ireland news

Surge in Covid infections in north as lateral flow testing extended

One in 25 people in Northern Ireland had Covid last week amid rising infections across the UK

COVID infections are surging with one in 25 people in Northern Ireland hit by the virus last week.

Covid-19 cases across the UK have also jumped by more than half a million in a week, driven by Omicron variants.

In Northern Ireland, infections increased to an estimated 71,000 people, up from 59,900.

Lateral flow testing in Northern Ireland has been extended until July 31 amid the rise in cases.

However, the Public Health Agency's contact tracing service, which has been phased out over the last few months, formally ended yesterday.

The self-isolation period after a positive Covid test has also been reduced to five days for adults and three days for children under 18.

The total number of people in hospital who have tested positive for Covid-19 is on the rise in much of the UK.

Although in Northern Ireland, numbers rose in early June before levelling off in recent days between 320 and 340.

Health Minister Robin Swann said after a period of lower Covid cases infections are now on the rise.

"Whilst prevalence continues to be relatively high, thankfully the overall risk of serious illness, hospitalisation and death for those who contract Covid-19 is much lower than during previous waves," he said.

"That said, we continue to see severe pressures in our hospitals and the contribution of Covid-19, even though admission numbers are smaller than in previous waves, adds to these pressures."

A total of 2.3 million people in private households across the UK are estimated to have had the virus in the week up to June 26, up 32 per cent from a week earlier, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Sarah Crofts, ONS head of analytical outputs for the Covid-19 infection survey, said: "Across the UK we've seen a continued increase of over half a million infections, likely caused by the growth of BA.4 and BA.5 variants.

She added: "We will continue to monitor the data closely to see if this growth continues in the coming weeks."

Scotland has seen the highest number of cases recently, with one in 18 people infected with Covid last week.

The figure is the highest estimate for Scotland since early April.

Dr Mary Ramsay, director of clinical programmes at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said: "We continue to see an increase in Covid-19 data, with a rise in case rates and hospitalisations in those aged 65 years and over, and outbreaks in care homes."

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