BMA warning as Covid inpatients rise for seven months and UK reaches record 4.9m people infected

The rate of Covid hospital inpatients - which has been on the rise for seven months - must be monitored carefully as community infection rates are much higher than are being officially recorded, a leading doctor has warned.

By Philip Bradfield
Friday, 1st April 2022, 7:28 pm
Updated Friday, 1st April 2022, 7:31 pm

The warning from Dr Tom Black comes as Covid infection rates for the UK reach an all time record this week of 4.9m, up from 4.3m, the week before. The Office of National Statistics say that is the highest number seen since its survey began at the end of April 2020.

Twenty-eight deaths linked to Covid-19 have been recorded in the latest weekly update for NI, against a backdrop of a steady rise in hospital admissions since August.

The surge in UK-wide infections is being driven partly by the contagious Omicron BA.2 sub-variant and people mixing more. The ONS says the highest infection rates are currently in England and Wales.

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Dr Tom Black of the BMA says hospital admission rates must be carefully monitored.

The last of NI’s Covid restrictions were lifted on 15 February.

This week’s death toll is 25, which is three deaths higher than the 22 from last week, according to data compiled by the NI Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).

According to DOH, the number of Covid patients being admitted to hospital has gradually increased over seven months; from 488 on 17 August to 586 on 27 March. The number of inpatients have also similarly risen from 488 on 17 August to 593 on 26 March.

Outbreaks in care homes have also remained high, surging sharply to over 200 in early January but since dropping steadily to the current figure of 157. Since 7 January, the NIRSA figures show that there are an average of seven covid related deaths every week in NI care homes, with a slightly higher rate of deaths in February.

Dr Tom Black, BMA NI Council chair, said the infection rate in NI is much higher than officially recorded, due to less testing, and urges people to take reasonable steps not to pass the virus on.

“In general what we are seeing is a steady amount of Covid cases, there is much less testing being reported therefore actual numbers are much higher than on the dashboard. However, thanks to the vaccination programme we are seeing fewer people needing hospital treatment.

“Those who are particularly vulnerable are now also able to quickly access antiviral treatment which is also helping people stay well enough to remain at home. However as we can see there are still people needing hospital treatment for Covid and that number needs to be carefully monitored.

“The number of cases in care homes has fallen from at peak at the start of the year however we also need to make sure that continues to drop. With the changes in testing everyone needs to take responsibility and do all they can to make sure they do not pass Covid on. If you have symptoms, however mild, please do a test and report the result.”

The Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Eddie Lynch said the outbreaks in care homes remain high but that vaccination rates mean that few residents are becoming seriously ill.

“The fact that covid outbreaks in care homes remains high is not unexpected given covid continues to have a high rate of transmission in the community,” he said. “For a care home to be declared in outbreak, it means two or more people have tested positive for COVID and the robust and routine testing of staff, visitors and residents will pick up infection.

“I continue to regularly engage with the Public Health Agency to keep updated on infection rates in care homes and consistently have been reassured by reports which show that few residents are becoming seriously ill from infection.  This demonstrates the effectiveness of the vaccination programme in reducing serious illness for older vulnerable people.  

“I’m pleased that the next phase of the vaccination booster programme will begin this month for care home residents and over 75s which will provide even further protection to our most vulnerable.  As covid continues to be present among our society, we cannot be complacent and I continue to ask that everyone exercise caution and follow all public health advice, particularly when visiting a loved one in a care home.”

The latest deaths, which occurred in the week ending March 25, take the total number of coronavirus-linked fatalities recorded by Nisra in NI to 4,435.

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, and Mid-Ulster council areas have had higher proportions of Covid-related deaths (12.5% and 8.2% respectively) throughout the pandemic compared with their share of all deaths in Northern Ireland (10.4% and 6.7% respectively).

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