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NI contact and trace service overwhelmed, warns PHA chief

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Dr Gerry Waldron

Dr Gerry Waldron

Dr Gerry Waldron

Northern Ireland's contact and trace service is "already overwhelmed" due to the recent daily rise in Covid-19 cases, a Public Health Agency (PHA) chief has warned.

Dr Gerry Waldron, head of health protection at the PHA, said yesterday the system has been dealing with an influx of daily cases but assured the public that a new "digital first" approach - which went live last Friday - is robust enough to cope with rising numbers.

He told the Belfast Telegraph the daily numbers of coronavirus cases witnessed in Northern Ireland over recent days were deeply concerning.

"It's bad. It's very worrying because we're seeing (very high) numbers.

"We had seen projections earlier which said that by early October we would be seeing 500 cases a day and that would be as bad as it would get," he said.

"But now we're getting 1,000 cases a day.

"And who knows where this is going to eventually go if this continues."

The new digital tracing system alerts people with a positive test result by text message and will provide them with a personal code which they can use at a dedicated website to input details of people with whom they were in recent close proximity.

Dr Waldron said the move to the "digital first" approach comes as the system - which works by alerting the public via phone calls - is struggling to cope with the ongoing increase in demand.

"The thing is to get in contact with people as quickly as possible," he explained.

"Now with so many people coming in you can appreciate the caller has to get in touch, and that leads to a delay.

"With 'digital first' as soon as there is a positive case, it sends out a text straight away, which says you've got a positive test.

"We give them a personal number and a link to a website. We then get a list of contacts back to us."

The PHA chief stressed one of the benefits of the text message service is that it speeds up the process of alerting those who have tested positive.

However, he warned it is not a 'silver bullet' in reducing the spread of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland - only a measure which can work effectively in tandem with other steps.

"This is just one way of us dealing with the huge numbers we are getting at the moment," he said.

Dr Waldron urged the public to return to thinking each interaction with another person could be an interaction with a potential Covid-19 case.

"I think we've got to go back to thinking like that now - wherever you are and what you're doing," he added.

He urged the public to heed any further restrictions and be "sensible" in the winter months ahead.

Belfast Telegraph