There could be up to 400 patients in hospital with Covid-19 by the end of the summer as the number of cases increase, the chief scientific adviser has said.
More than 500 new cases of Covid-19 were notified in Northern Ireland on Sunday.
Professor Ian Young said it is inevitable that there will be increasing numbers of cases over the summer, and urged all those in the 18-40 age group to get their vaccine to minimise the impact of the next pandemic peak.
“It is likely to peak some time in August, possibly early September, based on our modelling and the question is to what extent that will lead through to hospital admissions,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.
“Because of the success of the vaccine programme, the number of admissions will be less compared with previous waves but it can still be very substantial and at the moment we’re anticipating possibly up to around 400 patients in hospital with Covid towards the end of the summer.
“That’s why we need to push vaccination now, we can reduce that number substantially, probably by around half, if we can get up to 90% of the adult population vaccinated.”
Chief medical officer Sir Michael McBride said there is no doubt we are now in the “inevitable” fourth wave of the pandemic.
He said case numbers will increase rapidly as restrictions on movement are eased and the Delta variant is now dominant.
But he said the infection rate can be slowed by following public health advice and getting vaccinated.
Around 80% of the adult population in Northern Ireland, eligible for a Covid-19 vaccination, has received one dose while more than 60% has received two.
“Numbers will peak in August/early September and then after a delay of eight-ten days we will see that begin to translate into hospital admissions,” he told the BBC’s Nolan Show.
“If we can get our vaccination rate up to 90% we can reduce the number of people in hospital at any one time from 400 to approximately 200.”
Sir Michael said the health service is on track to have delivered 85% of first doses of the jab by the end of July.
He said so far around 56% of 18-29 year olds have been vaccinated so far, and urged those in that age bracket to come forward.
“The vaccine is doing a lot of the heavy lifting, it is weakening the link between infections and the number of people being admitted to hospital, it hasn’t broken that link completely,” he said.
“It’s really really important that as many of us get vaccinated because that builds a wall around the people who are vulnerable … and who wouldn’t want to reduce by 50% the number of people towards the end of the summer who are in our hospitals.”
Mobile vaccination clinics are being rolled out across Northern Ireland to make the jab more accessible and mass vaccination centres are offering walk-in appointments.
Health Minister Robin Swann has described the recent increase in the number of cases of the virus as a “serious concern”.
He said the latest cases are mostly within the younger age groups, and urged those to come forward to be vaccinated.
Meanwhile DUP MP Sammy Wilson has called for Northern Ireland to follow the rest of the UK ahead of the anticipated lifting of restrictions on movement in England later this month.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to tell people that it will be left to their judgment how to reduce the risk posed by the virus, rather than expecting the Government to set out restrictions in law.
The approach is expected to mean that from “freedom day” in a fortnight’s time, face masks will no longer be required in many settings and social distancing restrictions will be removed in pubs and restaurants
Sir Michael said the wearing of face coverings has reduced transmission of the virus, and will continue to.
“The more of us who continue to wear face coverings the greater that impact will have,” he said.
“Social distancing has undoubtedly prevented chains of transmission and has reduced infection, hand washing, good ventilation, all of those, the evidence is strong and they still work.
“Increasingly as we get more people vaccinated and more people protected then there is the opportunity to look at those interventions, the necessity for them, but ultimately those will be policy decisions for ministers.”