Coronavirus levels lowest since the end of summer: NI can look with ‘confidence’ to months ahead
Coronavirus levels have now been driven low enough for Northern Ireland to have the “confidence to get closer to normal” in the months ahead, a leading doctor has said.
Overall virus levels now appear to be lower than they have been at any time since the end of last summer, with 535 people having tested positive in the past week – compared with 915 the week before.
Dr Tom Black, the chair of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland, said: “We’ve done the hard work now so let’s hold steady and not make a mess of it.”
The seven-day incidence rate in Northern Ireland – the number of cases per 100,000 people over the course of a week – was reported as 28.4 yesterday.
That is the lowest figure since the second wave of the virus began to advance across Northern Ireland.
Dr Black said that with other key indicators all at a low level, society could confidently look ahead to easing lockdown restrictions.
There are 107 patients in hospital with the virus, 12 of whom are in intensive care.
The number of people aged over 60 testing positive in the past week was 62.
Dr Black said: “Those are low numbers. We’ve obviously protected our older folk very well with vaccination and with social distancing.
“I think that we’re at the stage now – where we’ve been a couple of times – where we’ve worked hard to get the numbers down.
“Now we have to hold our nerve and gradually ease the restrictions. We need to make sure that as we ease the restrictions we watch the data, we take advice from the professional advisors at the Department of Health and that we only ease the restrictions further as the data allows us to.”
He added: “I would be very optimistic that if we do this right, we will be able to control our destiny as it were. We should have confidence that we will get closer to normal this summer.
“Obviously the big confounding factors are human behaviour, or if we lose our nerve and ease the restrictions too fast because that would give us bad news. We have to control the communication (of the virus) with test and trace and so on.
“We’ve done the hard work now so let’s hold steady and not make a mess of it – something we have done in the past.”
Asked if the improvement could be attributed to the success of the vaccination programme, or to other measures such as mask wearing and lockdown, Dr Black said: “It’s both things. We’ve seen Chile with very good vaccination figures open too fast and they have huge numbers of infections now.”
There were two new coronavirus deaths reported yesterday, bringing the total to 2,123.