The public has been urged to show their appreciation for the health service by getting themselves vaccinated.
Currently around 80% of the adult population in Northern Ireland has received at least their first dose, with a push on to reach 90% by the end of July.
The region is currently behind Wales where 90% of adults have been vaccinated.
Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer Sir Michael McBride said reaching 90% by the end of this month could half the number of cases of Covid-19 in the fourth wave, as well as half the number of people who will be admitted to hospital with the virus.
With pressures currently mounting on the health service, Sir Michael urged the public not to clap to show their support this summer, but to get vaccinated to minimise the impact of the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our health service is under significant pressure… we showed our appreciation every Thursday evening for many weeks and months (by clapping). The right thing now to show our appreciation for the health service and to show our collective support for each other is to get the vaccine,” he said.
The seven day rolling average number of new cases each day has risen to 400.
On Wednesday, a further 570 cases were notified by the Department of Health.
On the same day there were 43 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom four were in intensive care
Chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young said a recent steep increase in the daily number of cases makes it clear the region has entered the early stages of a “significant further wave”.
“While the number of cases concerns us, what really concerns us is the pressure on our hospitals and it is inevitable that as cases increase so admissions and bed occupancy in hospitals will increase followed by patients requiring critical care treatment and unfortunately deaths,” he said.
“The increase is going to be less than in previous waves because vaccination has weakened the link between case numbers and hospital admissions but it hasn’t abolished it.”
Modelling suggests a number of scenarios which range from 2,000-3,000 new cases a day by August to a worse scenario if the vaccine uptake is poor and public health advice is ignored of up to 8,000 cases a day.
It also suggests 400 patients in hospital per day by the end of August.
Prof Young said if 90% receive their first dose of the vaccine by the end of July the case numbers and hospitalisations in the next wave could be reduced by 50%.
“What is going to happen is heavily dependent, heavily influenced by the extent to which we get adults to come forward for vaccination during the rest of July,” he said.
Jennifer Welsh, chief executive of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust, said the system is under “serious pressure” at present, and has been “for some weeks”.
She described hospital emergency departments as under “significant pressure”, and said Antrim Area Hospital is busier now than they would expect to be during the winter months.
She said: “In June of this year, compared to January of 2020, Antrim ED is experiencing a 14% increase in attendances, so this really feels like the worst of of winter,” she said, adding her apologies to all who have had to wait for treatment.
“Whenever I looked at all our systems yesterday (Tuesday), across all of our hospitals and EDs, at one point there were 190 patients awaiting beds, 108 of those people had been waiting over 12 hours.
“It really is pretty tough for our staff, our patients and their families at the moment and I would like to make an appeal to the public to please get your Covid-19 vaccination if you haven’t already done so.
“Cases are rising at an alarming rate and inevitably this means that the pressures will increase across our health and social care system.”
Vaccinations are available by booking appointments at a number of centres across Northern Ireland as well as participating pharmacies
There are also walk in services available and mobile vaccination clinics have been set up at locations across Northern Ireland in recent weeks.
Full details on how to take up a vaccine can be found on the NI Executive website https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/get-covid-19-vaccination-northern-ireland