Chief Science Officer raises concerns around rise in cases saying further deaths ‘inevitable’
DUP MP Sammy Wilson has said Northern Ireland “should move quickly” towards its own ‘Freedom Day’ as coronavirus restrictions were lifted in England, making the wearing of masks voluntary and allowing businesses to fully reopen.
Mr Wilson compared the virus to that of the flu.
"Just as we’ve learned to live every year with the impact of flu, he said, “and we always accept some people will die with the flu every year and we’ve learned to live with that.”
However, Chief Medical Officer Sir Michael McBride has dismissed comparisons with the flu.
He told the BBC: “Covid is not flu. Covid is a very nasty virus which kills and has killed a lot of people and thankfully we now have a vaccine.”
He also pointed to research that showed around a third of people suffered complications long after having had the virus and often when they had mild symptoms.
"There is no correlation between the severity of the disease initially and the likelihood of getting long Covid,” the medic said.
"Extreme tiredness, heart palpitations, chest tightness, problems with memory, joint pain, depression.. it affects 10 different organs.
"As a young person is that what you really want? We do not yet fully understand the long term consequences of this virus. We must think of those struggling with long Covid and we do not want to build up a generation of those suffering long Covid.
He told the BBC’s Nolan radio programme those over 50 will be prioritised for a Covid vaccination booster programme “probably” from September onwards.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young has there is concern about the rapid increase in cases in recent days and more deaths were “inevitable”.
He said it was clear that both cases and hospital admissions were rapidly increasing while pressures on hospitals had been “significant” all through the summer.
“The number of deaths, the proportion of deaths from Covid will be much less than in previous waves of the epidemic as a result of the impact of vaccination and of improved treatments,” he said.
MP Sammy Wilson also said instead of vaccinating children, consideration should be given to sharing the vaccine with countries with a small percentage of take up among the population.
Mr Wilson said young people in England were “overjoyed” businesses including nightclubs had been allowed to reopen and they could now “do things they wanted to do safely”.
He said: “In Scotland and England and other parts of the world those restrictions have been lifted and lifted without any dramatic increase in the number of deaths because there are vaccines available now.
"I think we should be moving quickly to that situation in Northern Ireland as well,” he said.
Mr Wilson said there would be implications for hospitality and business if restrictions continued.
“We’re not seeing the increase in deaths which was always the Damocles Sword hanging over us.
He added: “We find there are more people being affected by flu at present than what there are by Covid-19. For the life of me, I can’t understand why we do let people go to venues and mix but yet we still restrict the number of people you bring into your house.”
Mr Wilson also said hospitals were not under pressure. A claim dismissed by the chief scientific officer.
Latest Health Department figures show Covid admissions are increasing. There are 109 people in hospital with coronavirus and seven in intensive care. In the past seven days 102 have been admitted, up from 75 in the week previous. Overall hospital capacity is at 100% with three sites over capacity.
The Executive is due to consider further relaxation of restrictions from July 26 but deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill previously stressed a “cautious” approach would be taken.
Mr Wilson said there should be a renewed focus on other areas of the health service.
“We have to bear in mind there are many other people who require hospital treatment but because of the way in which we have skewed the national health service, people are dying of cancer, people who are dying of other diseases not being treated because we have taken the view the only thing the health service has to deal with is Covid,” he said.
He said consideration on restrictions had to be looked at on a wider basis and not just based on Covid data.
Some children and young people aged over 12 are to be offered a Covid vaccine. Officials have said those with specific underlying health conditions and who are at risk of serious illness from the virus can now receive the Pfizer/BioNtech jab. At present health officials are not recommending routine universal vaccination of under 18s.
Mr Wilson said: “Children shouldn’t be given the vaccine routinely. Children are low-risk.”
He added: “If we have got vaccines, surely what we ought to be doing is rather than putting those vaccines into children who are very young and have little chance of getting Covid, ought we not to be looking at those countries in the world where only 1% of the population are vaccinated, where the spread of the coronavirus is coming from and variants are likely to develop, should we not donate resources to those countries.”
Professor Young also raised concerns about the uptake of vaccination in adults after Health Minister Robin Swann said the mass vaccination programme could not go on indefinitely.
Professor Young urged the public to get vaccinated.
“There’s still around 18% of adults who have not come forward for the first dose of their vaccine and that means 18% of people who are just as susceptible to the most severe effects of Covid as they were earlier in the epidemic and have just the same risk of severe illness, long term illness in the form of long Covid, hospital admission and death."
The Department of Health has been asked for a response.