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Coronavirus: Northern Ireland's true Covid-19 death toll 'up to 30% higher than official figure'

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Staff from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust testing health service workers for Covid 19 at the Balmoral MoT Centre in south Belfast. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 8th April 2020

Staff from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust testing health service workers for Covid 19 at the Balmoral MoT Centre in south Belfast. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 8th April 2020

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Staff from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust testing health service workers for Covid 19 at the Balmoral MoT Centre in south Belfast. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 8th April 2020

The coronavirus death toll is likely to be 20% to 30% higher than the official tally, a leading doctor has claimed.

Dr Tom Black, chairman of the local arm of the British Medical Association, issued the warning yesterday after a further five Covid-related deaths brought the local death toll to 78.

The number of people here who have tested positive for the infection increased by 84 over the previous 24 hours, bringing the total of local confirmed cases to 1,339.

A total of 9,564 people in Northern Ireland have now been tested for Covid-19.

Across the UK, meanwhile, 938 more people died in hospitals - the biggest loss recorded in a single day so far.

The UK-wide death toll now stands at 7,097.

The number of Covid-related deaths in the Republic rose by 25, bringing the total to 235.

The latest figures show that England had a further 828 deaths, with Scotland recording 77 within the past 24 hours and Wales suffering 33.

The location of a further two deaths was not accounted for.

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots and Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey, who yesterday gave the daily Stormont Covid-19 update, expressed their sympathies to the five local families who recently lost relatives to the virus.

Mr Poots said the daily recording of Covid-19 deaths was reminiscent of the dark days of the Troubles.

Mrs Hargey said there would be no relaxation of the lockdown measures next week, when a UK-wide review is scheduled to take place.

"What we don't want is to lift (the restrictions) too early and then see a sharp rise again. That is a concern, obviously, so these restrictions will be in place for the foreseeable future," Mrs Hargey explained.

The Sinn Fein MLA spoke as Dr Black told this newspaper the official Covid-19 death toll was probably 20% to 30% lower than the true figure.

The Public Health Agency has confirmed that it only records deaths where the patient has tested positive for coronavirus within the past 28 days.

"By definition, therefore, deaths where tests were not taken will not be included," a spokesman explained in a statement.

"This reporting process allows a real-time daily update of trends in Covid-19 deaths within each trust area.

"In this pandemic, public health professionals, policy-makers and the public value an up-to-date daily record of the number of deaths associated with Covid-19."

Dr Black said the daily figures would remain a guide until wider testing measures were introduced.

"The failure to record Covid-19 deaths in the community is because we don't have enough tests. Obviously, we don't use tests to maintain statistics. We use tests to maintain health care," he explained.

Dr Tom Black

"I think it's reasonable that the Covid-19 testing should be as it at the moment for those in-patients in hospital and to get healthcare workers back to work."

He stressed that in the long term wider testing would be beneficial because it would enable health authorities to conduct contact tracing and isolate those who are infected.

"Overall, we aren't recording all Covid deaths at the moment and the difference is probably between 20 and 30%," Dr Black explained.

"I think the statisticians will be able to work this out retrospectively, but to be frank we have a lot of people dying from Covid infections and we're probably under-recording (deaths) slightly."

Belfast Telegraph