Covid-19 is a greater threat to our health service than the flu, a leading public health expert has warned.
Professor Gabriel Scally said he remained most concerned about the impact of the virus.
And he has cast doubt over claims by scientists that as many as 60,000 could die from flu this winter.
"The flu virus normally originates from the Far East and is then transported to other countries,” he said. "That didn’t happen last year, and given that a lot of countries in the Far East have avoided developing flu this year, I’m not sure we’re going to see a severe flu season.
"Remember that a lot of travel from the Far East is very restricted at the moment as well, which makes it less likely that it will be transported here.
"Also, a lot of the measures in place — washing hands, wearing masks, social distancing — help to protect against the spread of the flu virus, so as long as they remain in place that will reduce the risk of a surge of flu cases.
"Regardless, it is not the flu that presents a danger to the health service. Covid-19 is still a dangerous virus, while the health service has been massively underfunded for many years. The health service was in a terrible shape before the pandemic.”
Prof Scally was speaking after warnings that a combination of seasonal viruses and Covid could mean the NHS is unable to cope this winter.
The system here is running at over capacity as staff attempt to work through the massive backlog of hospital appointments and operations.
Last week the Western Trust had to cancel 27 elective procedures to care for 26 Covid inpatients.
Yesterday, a new report from the Academy of Medical Sciences said that flu and common respiratory virus hospital admissions and deaths could be twice that seen in a "normal" year and could coincide with an increase in Covid infections.
Models suggest between 15,000 and 60,000 could die from flu this winter.
But the experts said steps can be taken to reduce the risks, including a widespread flu campaign expected to take place later this year aimed at the over-50s.
They also called for Covid testing to include tests for flu and respiratory syncytial virus. For instance, if GPs were able to quickly confirm whether a patient has flu they would be able to prescribe antiviral medication sooner, meaning the person's illness would be reduced, lessening the burden on the NHS.
More must be done to support people to self-isolate and the NHS needs a "boost" of staff, bed numbers and capacity, the authors of the report added.
Stormont’s Department of Health said: “For most people flu is a very unpleasant illness, but in some cases and for those in ‘at risk’ groups it can be very dangerous and sometimes fatal.
"Northern Ireland has a wide-ranging vaccination programme which helps protect groups at particular risk.”
It added: "Plans are currently being developed for the rollout of the flu vaccination programme for the incoming autumn and winter.”