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Explainer: Why has Northern Ireland's daily case record just doubled?

Northern Ireland confirmed a record 934 new Covid-19 cases today.

Image: Shutterstock/Joaquin Ossorio Castillo

NORTHERN IRELAND HAS confirmed 934 new cases of Covid-19 today – a staggeringly high figure that is more than twice any previous daily record.

By comparison, the highest number of cases in one day in Northern Ireland before today was 424, which was reported on Wednesday earlier this week.

There were 259 positive tests reported yesterday, 320 on Tuesday, and 220 on Monday.

So what’s behind today’s massive jump?

Hot spots

Derry and Strabane have already been put under tighter restrictions because of a high incidence of Covid-19.

Together, Derry city and Strabane have one of the highest levels of Covid-19 not only in Northern Ireland, but in the UK, with 323 infected per 100,000 in the last week.

Pubs and restaurants have been limited to takeaway, delivery, and outdoor dining.

People have been asked to avoid any “unnecessary travel” to, from, or within the areas, and to work from home where possible and avoid public transport.

Let’s take a closer look at the numbers

There were more individual tests completed in Northern Ireland yesterday, which is represented in the figures released today, than any other day this week.

A total of 12,886 Covid-19 cases have been recorded in Northern Ireland since its first confirmed case on 27 February.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19 in the North, 512,860 laboratory tests for the virus have been carried out among 359,245 individuals.

The tests are carried out by two labs: HSC Trust Laboratory and the National Initiative Laboratory.

On 1 October, 50 people tested positive out of 634 tested at the HSC Trust Lab.

At the National Initiative Lab, which completed tests for 5,404 people in the same day, 884 tested positive for Covid-19.

At the HSC Trust Lab, the number of people tested on 1 October was actually slightly less than the number of people tested in the previous days this week – 634 individuals’ tests were completed there on 1 October, 888 on 30 September, 1,003 on 29 September, and 655 on 28 September.

However, even though fewer individuals’ tests were processed at the HSC Trust Lab, more people tested positive – 50 tested positive there on 1 October, 34 on 30 September, 31 on 29 September, and just 17 on 28 September.

Although there were fewer individuals tested at the HSC Trust Lab later in the week compared to previous days, more people tested positive for Covid-19.

The number of tests processed at the HSC Trust Lab, and the number tests returning positive, is relatively small compared to the tests completed at the National Initiative Lab.

Most of the 934 confirmed cases of Covid-19 announced today were tested at the National Initiative Lab, where 884 individuals tested positive on 1 October out of 5,404 individuals tested.

But unlike the HSC Trust Lab, which processed slightly fewer tests on 1 October than earlier in the week, the National Initiative Lab processed tests for a significantly higher number of individuals than any other day earlier in the week – thousands more.

On 1 October, the National Initiative Lab completed tests for 5,404 individuals, with 884 returning positive.

The previous day, on 30 September, only 2,005 individuals’ tests were completed at the lab, and 225 individuals tested positive – fewer than half the number of tests completed on 1 October, and about a quarter of the number of positive results.

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On 29 September, the National Initiative Lab completed tests for 3,830 individuals and saw 393 individuals test positive, and on 28 September it completed tests for 3,193 individuals and 303 tested positive.

The high number of cases confirmed in Northern Ireland this week may be an outlier caused by a higher number of tests in the National Initiave Lab – or it may be an early indicator of a worsening Covid-19 situation.

What happens next?

Last night, First Minister Arlene Foster said that any total lockdown in Northern Ireland should only come as part of a full, UK-wide approach.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said that if a lockdown was implemented across Northern Ireland, it should be alongside a lockdown across the whole of Ireland and in the UK.

New local lockdowns in the north of England have meant that one third of the UK will be under tighter restrictions from tomorrow.

Liverpool, Warrington, Hartlepool, and Middlesbrough are entering local lockdowns tomorrow and households will not be allowed to mix indoors. 

Local lockdowns in Denbighshire, Flintshire, Conwy and Wrexham have already come into effect in North Wales from 6pm yesterday.

In Ireland, Dublin and Donegal remain under Level 3 restrictions, and NPHET has newly recommended that no more than one household should visit any other home in any part of the country.

Last week, TheJournal.ie reported that the restrictions in Donegal highlighted a lack of cross-border co-operation on Covid-19.

Although the spike in cases in Northern Ireland today may have been impacted by a higher number of tests compared to previous days this week, it comes amid increases in Covid-19 cases elsewhere in Ireland and the UK and suggestions that any full lockdown – if there is one – should be taken alongside the two countries.

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