Health officials warn that “more severe restrictions” may be needed in NI


ealth officials have warned Covid passports may not be enough to stop hospitals being overwhelmed and “more severe restrictions” may need to be considered next month.

A Covid-19 modelling paper from the Department of Health has informed Executive ministers that positive cases have risen by 23% in a week.

The paper, seen by the PA news agency, attributes the surge partly to relaxations in the hospitality sector at the end of October and the return of schools after mid-term.

Hospital admissions have risen by 19% in the last week, while occupancy is up 10%.

Evidence suggests that adherence to guidelines by the public is declining and that there has been very low uptake of Covid certification on a voluntary basis by the hospitality sector

The conversion rate of cases to hospital admissions has risen above 2% for the first time since early September, and is now estimated at around 2.8%.

The paper says an increase in admissions is inevitable in the coming week and will continue to rise beyond that if cases numbers are not reduced.

Officials warn that community transmission is at a “high level and increasing rapidly”.

The modelling paper notes ICU occupancy and deaths have decreased in the last week, but stresses the lag in those indicators means they do not account for the recent surge in infections.

The paper calls for measures to increase adherence to recommended measures such as wearing face masks. / PA Archive

The Health Department experts state that without further intervention “as soon as possible”, modelling suggests hospital capacity may be exceeded in mid-December, if the current trajectory follows a central pathway.

The paper states: “Evidence suggests that adherence to guidelines by the public is declining and that there has been very low uptake of Covid certification on a voluntary basis by the hospitality sector.”

It states the need for immediate measures to increase adherence to current mitigations – such as face mask use and work-from-home guidance.

It says those mitigations will be unlikely to bring the reproduction rate below one unless they are accompanied by “widespread use of Covid certification across higher risk settings”.

The paper warns that all those measures combined may not be sufficient to reduce case numbers.

It says without a significant decline in community transmission in the next three weeks “there is a risk that more severe restrictions will need to be considered from mid-December to avoid hospital capacity from being overwhelmed”.

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