Northern Ireland could see 3,000 deaths in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, expert modelling has indicated.
Based on a “reasonable worst case scenario”, experts believe the peak of the first wave of the pandemic is expected between April 6-20.
The experts have raised the possibility of a second wave later in the year.
The figure is significantly down on the 15,000 deaths “worst case nightmare scenario” that health minister Robin Swann warned of in March.
Mr Swann said the projections indicate the continuation of “rigorous” social distancing will save lives.
“In summary, the research indicates that our health service would have a realistic prospect of coping in this initial period if a sufficient proportion of the population adhere to the social distancing and self-isolation measures,” he said.
“However, it is important that this is considered in context, and I would emphasise that it provides no grounds whatsoever for dropping our guard. On the contrary, the projections underline that the continuation of rigorous social distancing will save many lives and protect our health service from collapse.
“Even then, a reasonable worst case scenario would involve significant loss of life in Northern Ireland.
“In addition, the absence of a vaccine means we will have to plan for a potential second wave of Covid-19 cases later in the year.”
On Wednesday, the Public Health Agency said there had been two deaths of people who tested positive for Covid-19 since the last update on Tuesday, bringing the total in the region to 30.
The modelling outcome sets out a reasonable worst case scenario, based on a number of assumptions including social distancing measures producing a 66% reduction in contacts outside the home and workplace. In addition, 70% of symptomatic cases would adhere to case isolation.
It is expected that a peak number of 180 Covid-19 patients will require ventilation and critical care beds during the first wave of the epidemic, and the peak number of Covid-19 hospital admissions would be 500 per week.
Under this “reasonable worst case scenario”, the projected number of cumulative Covid-19 deaths in Northern Ireland over 20 weeks of the epidemic would be 3,000.
The modelling has indicated that the peak of the first wave of the epidemic will hit between April 6-20.
The modelling team authors emphasise that the work is not a prediction or forecast, rather a model for planning purposes, and also state: “It is assumed that current restrictions remain in place for the foreseeable future.
“When the current restrictions are relaxed, there will be a second wave.
“Future modelling will focus on the size and shape of this depending on how/when restrictions are relaxed or reintroduced. This will remain the case until there is substantial population immunity either as a result of recovery from infection or successful vaccination.”