A former World Health Organization (WHO) chief has blasted the organisation for failing to provide proper guidance to governments ahead of the coronavirus pandemic.
Professor Karol Sikora, a former government medical advisor and the current chief medical officer of Rutherford Health cancer treatment facilities, also said China should allow a team of independent experts to review the spread of Covid-19 across the country, as international tensions grow over the source of the virus which has claimed 165,000 lives worldwide.
The international cancer expert, who was the chief of the WHO Cancer Programme between 1997 and 1999, has also stressed that a lockdown exit strategy must be urgently implemented in Northern Ireland and across the rest of the UK to enable the health service to resume normal activity.
He said statistics suggest Northern Ireland is now over the worst of the Covid-19 surge and a delay in lifting lockdown measures will result in avoidable deaths in cancer and cardiac patients.
"I think everything is going the right way, in both the numbers of new patients and deaths and it would seem that the health service in Northern Ireland hasn't been overwhelmed," he said.
"However, it is overwhelmed in other ways, cancer services, cardiac surgery, people aren't being diagnosed with cancer because diagnostic services have come to a standstill.
"It depends how long the lockdown goes on for, but I think we need to wrap it up fairly soon.
"If we get cancer and cardiac services back in a few weeks, the effects won't be too bad, but if we wait six months people will die, and the numbers will be significant.
"You will be dealing with the spread of cancers, from a stage one to a stage four cancer. Quite simply, we have to get things moving again.
"Austria has allowed small shops and garden centres to reopen and they haven't seen another spike. Certainly if it was me making the decision, I would be looking at opening things back up.
"I think we could be looking at opening the schools and nurseries in a few weeks, then the small shops and finally the bars and restaurants.
"We're going to have to do it some day and I don't think we're going to reduce the number of deaths by delaying lifting the lockdown."
According to figures released yesterday, another 13 people in Northern Ireland have lost their lives as a result of Covid-19, bringing to 207 the total number of people here who have died since the beginning of the pandemic.
There is a growing consensus that coronavirus infection rates are beginning to flatten out and yesterday, Health Minister Robin Swann said latest research has suggested Northern Ireland could see 1,500 deaths in the first wave of the virus - half the number of deaths predicted earlier this month.
Debate has begun over when and how the lockdown will be eased to allow schools and businesses to reopen.
There is also growing concerns over the welfare of a number of Chinese whistleblowers who have disappeared since they spoke out about the reality of the virus as it swept through their country, while US President Donald Trump has been highly critical of the WHO's role in the pandemic.
Professor Sikora continued: "I think it's fair criticism, the leadership from WHO should have been helping governments come up with lockdown strategies and also strategies on how to ease those measures.
"The data collection has also not been good and it would be useful for China to open itself up for scrutiny, but that's never going to happen.
"Another organisation that is at fault is Public Health England, which was supposed to be doing the testing, while it's also clear that procurement of personal protective equipment has been a disaster. However, now isn't the time for a political row, there is time once this is over to look at what has happened and get some proper leadership in to the WHO."