Northern Ireland

Public health expert praises Northern Ireland's Covid response despite less certainty over infections

Covid-19 figures in Northern Ireland remain low as testing has been largely reduced.
Covid-19 figures in Northern Ireland remain low as testing has been largely reduced.

A public health expert has said the current coronavirus situation in Northern Ireland is ultimately a good news story, despite less certainty about the true spread of the virus.

The Public Health Agency continues to publish Covid-19 updates, but as test and tracing has been dramatically reduced it is difficult to know the full extent.

In the week ending May 7, the number of new infection episodes detected through clinical and routine testing was 312, down from 321 the previous week.

More Covid-19 outbreaks were detected in nursing homes compared to the previous week, but there was a general decreasing trend since mid-April in the number of emergency inpatients who were infected in the community.

The week ending May 5 also recorded 12 Covid-19 registered deaths, a decrease from the previous week.

The PHA add that clinical testing only reveals "a small fraction of the true number of cases," but existing data would still be monitored as it may help to indicate increasing incidence or severity.

Mark Tully, Professor of Public Health with Ulster University
Mark Tully, Professor of Public Health with Ulster University

While many in Northern Ireland will know of family members or colleagues that have recently been infected, Ulster University's Professor of Public Health Mark Tully told The Irish News that anecdotes should not be taken as proof of a new spike.

"Multiple anecdotes don't make data, so we just don't know," he said.

"It's a disease that will go through ups and downs and it doesn't seem to have settled into a seasonal pattern yet.

"Whether it will we don't know, and that will be the challenge when it comes to a public health perspective.

"We know that flu comes in peaks and troughs, so we can wrap health services around those at specific times.

"So, in the absence of any hard data, all we are doing is building anecdotes which really isn't helpful."

Professor Tully added that the World Health Organization had reduced the status of Covid-19 from a pandemic to an endemic illness.

"That's the way it will be and over time and, we assume, its severity will continue to decrease.

"But there are still people in society that are in risk because of underlying conditions, so that's why we've had the spring booster campaigns."

He continued: "It's actually a good news story in the sense that our vaccine programme has worked, and globally we've got this virus under a fair level of control.

"That's a testament to what our communities have done, what our people have done as well as medical and technical people right across society."

Further information from the Public Health Agency on how to reduce the risk of Covid-19  can be found at this location.