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Coronavirus: Over 50,000 in Northern Ireland may already have Covid-19, says QUB virologist Connor Bamford

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Eamon Archer passes a message in support of social distancing in the battle against coronavirus on his way home from a supermarket on the Ormeau Road in Belfast

Eamon Archer passes a message in support of social distancing in the battle against coronavirus on his way home from a supermarket on the Ormeau Road in Belfast

Eamon Archer passes a message in support of social distancing in the battle against coronavirus on his way home from a supermarket on the Ormeau Road in Belfast

More than 50,000 people in Northern Ireland could be infected with the deadly coronavirus, an expert has warned.

Virologist Connor Bamford made the prediction based on our latest death toll, which reached 28 on Tuesday.

A further six people have died due to the virus since Monday, officials said.

The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases has reached 586, a rise of 53 in 24 hours.

However, Dr Bamford, a research fellow at Queen's University, has calculated the actual total of cases here could be as high as 52,000.

He said this would include cases of people who have recovered.

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Graves being dug at Antrim's Belmont Cemetary in preparation for a surge in coronavirus deaths

Graves being dug at Antrim's Belmont Cemetary in preparation for a surge in coronavirus deaths

Graves being dug at Antrim's Belmont Cemetary in preparation for a surge in coronavirus deaths

The prediction came as:

  • The UK death toll reached 1,801, a rise of 381 ­- the biggest daily increase yet.
  • Deaths jumped to 71 in the Republic of Ireland.
  • The PSNI said it would suspend investigations into Troubles cases and redeploy personnel in response to the crisis.
  • The number of known cases worldwide passed 800,000, with 40,000 dead.

While there were 586 confirmed cases in Northern Ireland on Tuesday ­­- more than treble the 172 cases at the same point a week earlier ­­- experts believe the true figure is far higher.

Last Wednesday Michael McBride, the chief medical officer, said he believed there were "many thousands" of Covid-19 cases across Northern Ireland.

On Tuesday Dr Bamford said the mortality rate could be 0.6%, with many people unaware they have Covid-19 due to not displaying symptoms or experiencing a mild form of the infection.

"It can take up to around three weeks to succumb to infection from initial exposure, so whatever numbers of deaths we have, they can tell us how many cases in total we had three weeks ago," he explained.

"Given that the virus may double every six days, we can project forward 21 days later. Three weeks ago we could have had 4,500 cases, but today this would look like 52,000 in total."

This does not mean that there are nearly 50,000 people walking around with Covid-19 because many of these will have recovered, or are in the process of being sick, or will have unfortunately died Connor Bamford

Health Minister Robin Swann, writing in Wednesday's Belfast Telegraph, restated the importance of following basic precautions.

He urged the "small minority" of people here flouting the social distancing measures to obey the lockdown.

"It is essential that these tight restrictions are rigorously maintained in the weeks ahead. Quite simply, lives depend on it," Mr Swann said.

"So, let me appeal to everyone not to slip back into old habits. Any signs of complacency and impatience must be strongly resisted.

"Our actions now will impact on the spread of coronavirus in future weeks."

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Virologist Connor Bamford

Virologist Connor Bamford

Virologist Connor Bamford

Dr Bamford, who has previously warned council areas with low numbers of confirmed cases to avoid being complacent in the battle against Covid-19, said it was important to put his prediction into context.

"This does not mean that there are nearly 50,000 people walking around with Covid-19 because many of these will have recovered, or are in the process of being sick, or will have unfortunately died," he added.

"These numbers are just predictions and ideally we would like to base any calculations on hard data, but unfortunately we are not testing to high enough capacity yet to do this."

Dr Bamford said he was hopeful that this would be rectified in the future.

The Government has committed to only testing those admitted to hospital as well as health workers, a decision which has been criticised by some experts calling for the wider population to be included in a bid to reduce transmissions.

Dr Bamford said the virus was proportionately affecting Northern Ireland and the Republic at almost the same rate.

At the weekend a second Queen's University expert, Professor Ultan Power, estimated the number of actual coronavirus cases to be around 62,000.

The figure was reported at the weekend by the Irish Mail on Sunday.

A professor at the University of Bristol has said the island of Ireland needs to work as one unit in the fight against coronavirus.

Gabriel Scally warned on Tuesday there was a risk of "squandering" the geographical advantage of living on an island because of different health policies either side of the border.

Belfast Telegraph