DUBLIN (Reuters) – The spread of COVID-19 in Northern Ireland is getting more grave by the hour and further restrictions will likely be imposed soon, the British-run region’s health minister said on Friday after another daily record number of cases.
A rapid surge in infections over the past two weeks in the smallest of the United Kingdom’s four nations means the rate of cases per 100,000 people since the start of the pandemic has now outstripped that of England, Scotland or Wales.
Northern Ireland reported 1,080 new cases on Friday, 10 times the rate experienced a month ago to bring the seven-day rate per 100,000 people to 280.2, higher than the most European countries.
“The situation is grave and getting more so, on a daily if not hourly basis,” Robin Swann said in a written statement to the regional parliament. The number of COVID-19 hospital inpatients would exceed numbers seen in first wave of the pandemic in two to three weeks if current trends continue unabated, he said.
“I am advised that further restrictions for Northern Ireland are likely to be required in the very near future” if cases keep going up, he said.
Northern Ireland’s devolved government imposed tighter restrictions on household mixing last month and this week banned indoor dining, drinking and unnecessary travel to and from the hardest-hit area of Derry and Strabane.
However its leaders complained this week that they could not consider imposing further measures without more financial support from London. They welcomed an announcement by Britain’s finance minister on Friday of extra help across the UK for businesses forced to close temporarily.
There are stricter measures in place across the open border in Ireland – where bars and restaurants can only serve 15 people outdoors. Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Belfast and Dublin were working to ensure there will be “significant co-operation” to slow the spread across the island.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Frances Kerry)