Covid patient numbers ‘stubbornly high’ across GB despite drop in NI

Patient numbers remain “stubbornly high” across Great Britain, as Northern Ireland data shows a slight decrease over recent weeks.

Saturday, 2nd October 2021, 4:00 am
PABest PABest Infection Control nurse Colin Clarke looks out from a Covid-19 recovery ward at Craigavon Area Hospital in Co Armagh, Northern Ireland.

There were 342 coronavirus inpatients in Northern Ireland hospitals when the latest figures were recorded yesterday morning – just over a third of the peak in the middle of January when the health service came close to being overwhelmed.

The latest figures also represent a decrease on the 520 virus inpatients reported by the Stormont health department after the first week of September.

For the UK as a whole, around one in 10 people aged 16 and over have still not received any doses of Covid-19 vaccine, with estimates ranging from 8% in Scotland to 12% in Northern Ireland.

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The third wave of coronavirus began in the UK at the end of May, driven by the more transmissible Delta variant of the virus and the easing of lockdown but appeared to have little impact in Northern Ireland until the start of July.

At that time, only around 70-80 people on average were testing positive each week here. But by the middle of July, average daily case numbers were well in excess of 1,000 per week and have only recently dropped back below that level.

The latest figures show that 1,089 new infections were picked up in the past 24 hours, and 7,622 in the past week.

The case numbers recorded in recent weeks and months are eclipsed only by the spike in the middle of January – the markedly lower death rate and hospital admission rate at present are a clear indicator of the impact of the vaccine programme.

While case rates are falling in both Scotland and Northern Ireland, all regions of England are reporting a rise, while Wales has seen its rate hit a record high in recent days.

Infection levels and the number of new cases have both jumped there in recent months, but although patient numbers and deaths have also increased, neither has yet matched the levels seen at the peak of the second wave last winter.

Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said that even though patient numbers have dropped slightly in recent weeks across the UK as a whole, they are still at a level that is “stubbornly high”, and need to “fall significantly before pressure on the NHS starts to build up during the winter”.

“Although only a small minority of adults remain unvaccinated, they are greatly over-represented among hospital cases and deaths,” Professor Woolhouse added.

Eight deaths were recorded in Northern Ireland yesterday.