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Coronavirus: Risk of second wave too high for Northern Ireland lockdown to be lifted, warns QUB expert


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Cars in City Park, Craigavon, on Sunday afternoon

Cars in City Park, Craigavon, on Sunday afternoon

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Cars in City Park, Craigavon, on Sunday afternoon

We should continue to abide by the stay at home message until death rates from coronavirus substantially reduce, a virologist has warned.

As the death toll in Northern Ireland climbed to 435 on Sunday, Dr Connor Bamford, a research fellow at Queen's University, said we risk another large and deadly second peak without "lockdown-like" conditions.

He was speaking after First Minister Arlene Foster said she will be following Boris Johnson's lockdown exit plan, but that any changes to restrictions in Northern Ireland will be "nuanced".

The reproductive rate of the virus remains at around 0.8 here, which led to last Thursday's announcement by the Executive that the current regulations will be extended until May 28.

For restrictions to be gradually lifted, the 'R' rate needs to stay below 1, meaning that every person with the virus infects less than one other.

Before the UK lockdown on March 23 the R rate was around 2.6.

The reproductive rate for Covid-19 in the Republic is now lower than Northern Ireland at around 0.5.

Dr Bamford said he agreed that the reproductive rate here is still too high to relax restrictions.

He hopes to see a strategy for exiting the lockdown like that of the Irish Government's five-stage plan, but said rigorous social distancing must be maintained while increased testing is essential.

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Connor Bamford

Connor Bamford

Connor Bamford

"We will have to continue with the lockdown for some time yet but I would like to see a clear plan about how this will be done similar to what the Republic have put forward," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Everything seems sensible with that plan, which is quite flexible, and that is what we are going to need.

"Whatever we do will have to be done moderately as there is little evidence to show that the numbers of deaths are substantially slowing down.

"You can reduce the lockdown and maintain social distancing but you have to do it at a time when you have the least amount of deaths and new cases coming up.

"You also have to supplement reducing the lockdown with an increase in testing, tracing and isolating people if you want to drive the case numbers down.

"There is still a very slow decrease in death rates and we are still not testing widely in terms of determining how widespread the virus is.

"At the minute we are in a very difficult position."

Dr Bamford said people need to continue to stay at home or they risk slowing the pace of the lifting of lockdown throughout Northern Ireland.

He pointed to other countries which have relaxed lockdown but are now seeing a fresh spike in cases.

"In the last week or so it's clear that people are not staying at home as much as possible, given the amount of traffic on the roads and that's partly due to the good weather," he said.

"By remaining at home in the last few weeks, this has had an impact, but hasn't given us as much of a result in terms of the rate of cases and deaths as we would have liked. We are going to have to do something else to get the numbers down even more before we think about relieving lockdown.

"The moment we relieve lockdown the virus will come back, as we have seen in places like Germany and South Korea.

"These places have been doing much more testing, so we would be in an even more dangerous position."

Belfast Telegraph