Lifting NI Covid restrictions: The meaningful points the Executive must consi…


he latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest the pandemic is nevertheless claiming a important number of lives. Overall deaths in England, Scotland and Wales in the week ending September 24 were above the five-year average.

There were 59 deaths here connected to Covid-19 over the seven-day period, the highest number since the week ending March 12, when the UK was in complete lockdown.

Deaths involving Covid-19 accounted for around one in 11 deaths across the UK in the week ending September 24, while Northern Ireland had the highest proportion of deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.

Infection rate

According to the ONS, the trend for coronavirus infections in Northern Ireland was uncertain in the week ending September 25, although the vicinity was faring better than Scotland and Wales.

It is estimated that one in 65 people in Northern Ireland, excluding hospital patients and care home residents, had Covid-19 during the seven-day period. This compares to one in 85 people in England, and one in 55 people in Wales and Scotland.

It is interesting to observe England had the lowest coronavirus infection rate, given it has moved at a quicker speed than the rest of the UK in relation to easing restrictions. All legal restrictions, including the mandatory wearing of masks indoors, were lifted in England from July 19.


A surge in situations was expected with the return of schools, but has that happened?

The seven-day case rate across all age groups on September 1 was 10,378, but it had dropped to 7,918 in figures reported on Wednesday. However, those figures don’t tell the whole story.

There has been an increase in the number of children being diagnosed with Covid-19 since the start of September. According to figures reported on Wednesday, the seven-day case rate across school age children was 3,357 – up from 2,982 on September 1.

Disparities appear when you break down the figures further. For example, the number of people aged between 15 and 19, and five to nine-years-old testing positive, has fallen since the start of September.

However, with children aged between 10 and 14, it has risen considerably, with the seven-day case rate jumping from 1,002 on September 1 to 1,658.

Of course, the number of children with Covid-19 is likely to be higher than statistics suggest, given the fact most classmates of a positive case are not required to self-isolate.

Officials have not however released data on the number of children identified as a close contact of a classmate who are developing Covid-19 between tests on days two and eight, although schools are reporting this is happening.

What is important, however, is that the rise in situations in schoolchildren doesn’t seem to have affected older age groups, which are more at risk from the virus.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the vaccines are effective at protecting against Covid-19, particularly harsh disease and death, and they also reduce the risk of people spreading the virus that causes the illness.

The latest figures show that 83% of the over-18 population have had two doses of the vaccine, but health officials are keen to increase this further, particularly in the coming months.

Almost half of all 16 and 17-year-olds have had one measure of the vaccine and plans are being developed to offer the jab to children aged between 12 and 15.

However, it emerged this week that it would be next month before the programme was rolled out to the majority of the cohort.

The impact of this delay into the winter months remains to be seen, as does the effectiveness of the vaccine in those who have already been vaccinated and will not receive a booster measure.

NHS capacity

Figures released by the Department of Health on Wednesday afternoon paint a fairly grim picture.

There were 326 Covid-occupied beds, with 31 Covid-19 patients in intensive care.

Nine hospitals were operating over capacity, with 161 beds over capacity and 267 people waiting to be admitted to a hospital ward.

At the start of September, there were 431 Covid-occupied beds, with 46 Covid-19 patients in ICUs.

There were 10 hospitals operating over capacity, 235 beds over capacity and 275 people awaiting admission.

While the number of Covid-19 patients has dropped, the pressure on the service has not.

In addition to dealing with Covid-19, an depleted workforce is trying to cope with the hospital waiting list crisis and children falling ill with bronchiolitis.

As it stands, winter contingency plans have not been published and there are question marks over whether there will be a sufficient budget to fund special measures, with the Department of Health waiting to find out the outcome of the October monitoring round.

All of this method that already a small increase in Covid-19 inpatients could be enough to push the NHS to breaking point.

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