More nuanced advice could be prepared for the most vulnerable group shielding from coronavirus, Stormont’s chief scientific adviser said.
Fresh letters are due to go out in Northern Ireland over the coming weeks to thousands of people with serious underlying health conditions.
The risk of another wave of infection could be greater this autumn and winter, Professor Ian Young added.
Those with serious underlying health conditions have expressed frustration that some people are flouting social distancing advice on beaches, while others have remained indoors for ten weeks.
Professor Young said: “Those who have been shielding have given up a considerable sacrifice and have suffered significantly as a result of that.”
He added: “The risk to an individual if they contract the virus remains as severe as it has ever been, but as the level of transmission is much lower in the community then their risk of being exposed is less than it was in the past.
“That may allow more nuanced advice.”
Those who have been shielding have given up a considerable sacrifice and have suffered significantly as a result of thatProfessor Ian Young
About 80,000 people have received official letters urging them to remain at home at all times and arrange delivery of food and medicine.
It has not been finalised how long those instructions should be extended for, or which extra distinctions could be drawn, officials said.
Professor Young also addressed the risk to those working in busy environments like retail.
Stormont health committee members said some staff were facing pressure to return to work.
The chief scientific adviser to the Department of Health said those working in retail may or may not be in relatively close proximity to others.
“We need those to be worked out by sympathetic employers with the interests of their employees in mind and hopefully agreed between them.”
Northern Ireland’s rate of infection, the number one infected person infects, is just below one.
Complacency around coronavirus could lead to further spread of the disease, and ultimately result in deaths.— Public Health Agency (@publichealthni) June 3, 2020
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Professor Young and Health Minister Robin Swann appeared before Stormont’s health committee on Wednesday and praised the public for driving down that rate.
Professor Young said he hoped, given the measures in place, there would not be another outbreak which would overwhelm the NHS, but anything remained possible.
“The risk will be greater in the winter and autumn months given the path of other similar respiratory viruses.”
He estimated that about 5% of the population was immune and levels would need to be up to about 80% before the virus’ spread would be naturally contained.