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Coronavirus: Next week will be the worst for Northern Ireland, but life will soon get back to normal, says scientist

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Professor Karol Sikora

Professor Karol Sikora

Professor Karol Sikora

Former World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Professor Karol Sikora says next week will be the worst period of the coronavirus pandemic.

The chief scientific officer advising the Stormont government, Professor Ian Young, has already predicted that up to 3,000 people could die during a first wave, expected to peak in around a fortnight.

While Professor Sikora, a leading cancer specialist and medical director of the Rutherford Cancer centres, described that news as "not good", he remains optimistic that life could start going back to normal in early May.

With the full force of the coronavirus pandemic set to hit Northern Ireland over Easter, Professor Sikora told the Belfast Telegraph things will get rougher over the next 10 days. "We are now going through the peak and I reckon that next week will be the worst week and after Easter the number of deaths will still rise and then start to come down," he said.

"If you look at other countries it's about a four week bumpy ride for everybody and then things will smooth out.

"Once that happens everyone will start relaxing although everyone is using different social distancing policies. The good thing is there has been no evidence of a second wave at the moment in countries like China and Korea."

The former top WHO official acknowledged that politicians have been placed in the difficult position of having to make life or death decisions in an area they aren't familiar with on a daily basis.

"I rarely feel sorry for politicians but this is one circumstance where you have to," he said.

"Whatever they do they have no idea if it's the right or wrong decision. They all have various advisors who are telling them different things."

While he believes the government has handled the current crisis well, Professor Sikora believes their approach in terms of testing has not been good enough. He says at the moment we are fighting the virus blind and that only antibody testing will provide true numbers of how many have had the virus.

The government has been under pressure to increase the screening of frontline NHS staff so that those who are self-isolating unnecessarily can return to work.

"It's such a weapon against the virus but our numbers are still too low," he said. "If we get the antibody tests operational we will be well on the way to beating this virus. You can't fight what you can't see.

"Somehow if we could test the population and find out who has had coronavirus then we can release them back into the population. If it is 40 or 50% then it might be possible to liberate social distancing in the first or second week of May.

"We would all be delighted if that was the case.

"At the same time if that's not the case and say only 10% of the population have been infected we may have to wait until September and that would create huge social problems for many countries."

Yesterday, Northern Ireland's chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said an agreement to ensure a co-ordinated Ireland-wide response to coronavirus is "imminent".

Professor Sikora described this unanimity of approach across the island of Ireland as "better late than never". He added: "For now people will just have to hang in there and obey the advice."

Belfast Telegraph