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Sting in the tail of coronavirus might be even deadlier, leading NI doctor warns

Stark warning of second wave of virus in winter which could overwhelm NHS

Dr Tom Black

A leading doctor has warned Northern Ireland may face an even more brutal onslaught from coronavirus later in the year.

Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) in Northern Ireland, also raised concerns at the prospect of close family members being allowed to see dying relatives to say goodbye.

He spoke to Sunday Life as it emerged on Saturday that a further 17 people have died in hospital settings here with coronavirus. With one death confirmed on Sunday, it takes the total number of confirmed deaths in hospitals in the region to 194.

The full death toll is likely to be higher after official statistics published on Friday showed the figures were around a third higher than previously reported. The disparity is due to differences in how the statistics are gathered. In the Republic of Ireland, the death toll rose by 41 to 571, with a total of 14,758 confirmed cases.

Speaking about fears of a second Covid-19 wave later in the year, Dr Tom Black explained: "If you look out the window at all the sunshine, coronavirus doesn't do well in the sun.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we have another surge - coronavirus is endemic now, the infection is always going to be about but levels will hopefully be lower during the summer when the weather is better.

"However, if we get a second surge in the winter, when we are dealing with the likes of the common cold and all the other viruses, that will present significant challenges.

"The health service is already under severe pressure at that time of year so adding a coronavirus surge into that would make things very difficult.

"I would hope by then, however, that we will be ready for it, we will have more PPE and we will also know more about the virus."

He also said he believes a proposal to allow some loves ones to see dying relatives, made under new coronavirus guidelines, would present significant risks.

Not only would it use up personal protective equipment that is crucial to healthcare staff caring for Covid-19 patients, but he said it would also be dangerous for visitors.

"If you have two or three people visiting a patient, that all adds up and PPE is a very valuable resource at the moment," he said.

"You also have to be very careful about how you use PPE.

"It isn't the donning that's the issue, it's the doffing, that's when there is the potential to become infected if it isn't done properly.

"I do think the natural feeling is that you should allow families in to see their loved ones, if even only for the dying person, however it is something that we need to consider very carefully."

Northern Ireland's Health Minister Robin Swann has said he is consulting experts on the matter, but warned that he believes the risk remains too great to allow people to visit relatives dying from Covid-19.

The UUP MLA said he had spoken to a number of senior clinicians who had advised it would present difficulties if large numbers of families were allowed to visit patients in intensive care.

"It presents too significant a risk around infection, and presents a real challenge to both visitors and staff, however I have asked the Northern Ireland critical care network to review the matter," he added.

The UK Government on Saturday pledged a further £50million of funding to support the Northern Ireland Executive's bid to tackle coronavirus.

This takes the total funding the UK Government has made available to Stormont to almost £1.2billion.

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said: "Today's funding, in addition to the support offered to people and businesses across Northern Ireland through UK-wide initiatives, reinforces our commitment to ensuring that everyone in Northern Ireland is able to access the resources and support they need at this incredibly challenging time."

A key adviser to the British Government on coronavirus on Saturday said trials for a vaccine for the disease could be completed by mid-August.

Professor Sir John Bell, a member of the Government's vaccine task force and adviser on life sciences, said human testing began at Oxford University last Thursday.

Asked about the possibility of a vaccine being produced by the autumn, Sir John told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The real question is will it have efficacy? Will it protect people, and that has not been tested and it will only be tested once you have vaccinated a significant number of people and exposed them to the virus and counted how many people have got the virus in that population.

"So, we won't even get a signal for that until May.

"But if things go on course and it does have efficacy, then I think it is reasonable to think that they would be able to complete their trial by mid-August."

Sir John said a candidate vaccine was being tested at Oxford.

"They have got a candidate vaccine, which I think went into man for the first time this week after a wide range of safety studies.

"It went into man, I think, on Thursday.

"It was the first test of testing it in a human being."

He added: "If we can see evidence of a strong immune response by the middle or the end of May, then I think the game is on.

"Then, of course, there is the massive issue of how you manufacture at scale many billions of doses."

There is currently no evidence to support the belief that people who have recovered from coronavirus then have immunity, the World Health Organisation has said.

Senior WHO epidemiologists warned despite the hopes governments across the world have piled on antibody tests, there is no proof those who have been infected cannot be infected again.

The number of people in the UK tested for coronavirus since the outbreak began, 357,023 as of 9am on Saturday, is the equivalent of around 536 people in every 100,000 - or 0.5% of the population.

Across the UK, the official Covid-19 death toll on Saturday surpassed 15,000 - with 888 new fatalities recorded in the previous 24 hours.

The coronavirus death toll in Spain, one of the world's worst-hit countries, topped 20,000 after 565 new fatalities were recorded.

Belfast Telegraph