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Coronavirus lockdown has potential to last months, says Belfast virologist

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A very quiet Westlink in Belfast yesterday

A very quiet Westlink in Belfast yesterday

PA

A near deserted Belfast city centre

A near deserted Belfast city centre

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

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bamford

A very quiet Westlink in Belfast yesterday

Northern Ireland should prepare to be in lockdown this summer, a top virologist has warned.

Dr Connor Bamford, a research fellow at Queen's University, Belfast stressed that if everyone follows Government guidelines to stay at home, there could be a significant reduction in the number of Covid-19 cases here.

His plea comes as a fourth coronavirus death in Northern Ireland - Ruth Burke (82) - was announced today.

The development came after Boris Johnson ordered people on Monday to remain at home except for shopping for basic necessities, exercise once a day, any medical need, and travelling to and from essential work.

Shops selling non-essential items were told to shut and gatherings in public of more than two people who do not live together are also banned.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd announced that PSNI officers would exercise new enforcement powers to take action against those who flout the lockdown.

"We are fully behind the new measures announced by the UK Government and Northern Ireland Executive to increase social distancing, and I urge everyone to adhere to them," he said.

"The new legislation is expected imminently and we will carefully consider the implications this will have on allowing us to act in support of public health officials. I would remind everyone these measures have been introduced to save lives during this global emergency.

"Until the new legislation is in place, we will be increasing police patrols in key areas across Northern Ireland to engage with and provide guidance to anyone who contravenes the measures."

Dr Bamford also urged the public not to ignore the lockdown measures, which are in place for three weeks, although First Minister Arlene Foster has warned she expected this to be for a longer period of time.

He described the lockdown measures as "sensible".

"Hopefully we will see that this stops the spread but we won't be able to tell for quite a while," Dr Bamford explained.

"In two or three weeks we'll be able to see its impact."

He said that households remaining indoors could play a significant role in reducing the number of infections.

"If we don't do anything, everyone will probably get infected at some point in the next few months, or years," said Dr Bamford.

"So essentially if everyone stays locked in you could get a serious amount of reduction. At least 10-fold, if not 100-fold, but only if everybody does this.

"Everyone's still susceptible, the virus is still out there.

"I can see this (the lockdown) going on for months.

"Or at least, in some predictions, you can have an intense period of lockdown now, then relieve it, and then lockdown again.

"But it depends on how people take to that. Certainly the summer will be dominated by a severe lockdown or an on-off situation."

He also warned the UK remains on the same trajectory as Italy, "at least in terms of numbers", although Northern Ireland is behind the "curve" compared to the other regions.

"It's only going to get worse because of the virus' spread but because we're on the slower end we might have a bigger benefit on these lockdowns.

"In London there might be a lesser benefit because it's already quite ahead," he said.

Belfast Telegraph