Two doctors based in the north-west on both sides of the border have told of the growing number of cases that appear to be of the Delta variant of Covid-19.
Dr Tom Black, who is based in Derry, told RTÉ radio’sthat the number of cases in the Strabane and Derry area is three times higher than the rest of Northern Ireland.
“We are seeing a lot of sick children and younger people, not older people," he said.
"Half the cases in Northern Ireland are the Delta variant, we expect that to rise to 75% in the next couple of weeks.”
Dr Black said that the vaccination programme was holding up well and that there were very few cases in the over-60s and very few hospitalisations.
However, he acknowledged that as GPs they were not certain that the cases they were seeing were of the Delta variant, but they were seeing more symptoms that were consistent with the Delta variant.
On the other side of the border in Donegal, Dr Denis McCauley said they too were seeing an “upswing” in upper respiratory infections among children, but that because of ongoing problems caused by the malware attack on the HSE they did not have full details.
People were going directly to testing centres rather than their GP which meant GPs did not know all the details.
What happened in Derry was usually replicated in Donegal, he said and as the number of cases went up in Northern Ireland more cases were going to be seen in Donegal too.
Dr Black said that pop up clinics had been established around Derry to address “the gaps” among those aged 40 to 60 who had not been vaccinated. People under 40 who contracted the virus did not become very ill, he said.
Meanwhile, the Covid adviser for the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) Dr Mary Favier has cautioned that if the number of cases of the Delta variant continues to rise then difficult decisions will have to be made by the Government next week.
The Nphet member told the same show that there was a concern about the “uptick” in the numbers of cases involving the variant.
Dr Favier reiterated that GPs were finding it difficult to determine exact numbers as people were now going directly to pop-up test centres and doctors could not access data because of the malware attack on the HSE system.
Previously when patients accessed testing through GPs they would be given advice on isolation and contacts.
“We would text people, but we can’t do that now.”
This was an issue of concern as the Delta variant was more contagious and there had been a change in public behaviour, she said. There was also concern about the impact of long Covid.
Vaccination was the answer and more time was needed, “an additional two to three weeks would make a substantial difference.”
The vaccination programme was going very well, but people needed to have had their two doses for the vaccine to be effective against the Delta variant, she added.
It will be the Government that will make the decision about the date for the easing of restrictions for indoor facilities, she said.
That decision would be made using “many variables” and it would be a “hard decision.” Dr Favier said that “social solidarity and the extraordinary community effort had gotten us this far”.
She said that if people were told that delaying the easing of restrictions for a few weeks meant that we would avoid more lockdowns, increased pressure on the health system, then the public would understand.
But if numbers of the Delta variant continued to rise then a difficult decision would have to be made. Nphet will have figures by the middle of next week and they could meet with the Cabinet on Wednesday rather than their usual Thursday meeting.
In the meantime, Dr Favier said she would urge the public to continue to observe the basics – wear a mask, social distancing, wash their hands and stay outdoors.
The Tánaiste has previously said that advice from Nphet next week will be crucial when it comes to reopening indoor hospitality.
The European Centre for Disease Control has said that the Delta variant will represent 90% of all Covid cases in the EU by the end of August, with Leo Varadkar adding that the variant does represent a “dark cloud”.