Coronavirus: Northern Ireland weighs up ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown as hospitals run short of beds

Northern Ireland could become the first entire region of the UK to impose a “circuit-breaker” lockdown to try to curb the second wave of COVID-19.

Twice in three days, the number of new cases has exceeded 1,000 and Derry and Strabane Council District is fighting the UK’s highest infection rate.

Senior staff on the COVID ward at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry say things are worse now than they were at this point in the spring.

Martin Kelly, a respiratory consultant, asked: “Where are we going to be if this keeps happening? We are going to be in great difficulty.

“As of today, and I’ve just come from the ward, we’re struggling to find beds for people who are presenting to the emergency department acutely unwell with COVID,” he added.

COVID rather than Brexit has seen a return of police checkpoints to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, as people are advised to avoid all but essential travel.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MP, whose constituency includes much of Derry, says there’s now a desperate need for an island-wide response to the health crisis.

He said: “This virus doesn’t understand or recognise international borders. We need to act together. Anytime we’ve acted together, it’s been almost accidental. The executive in the North and the government in Dublin need to be doing the same thing.

“We’re now in the territory where we need to give people some hope that we will have a Christmas out of this and that may mean a very strong lockdown for a few weeks,” he added.

Lisneal College has eight teachers off either ill or self-isolating after contact but the principal says keeping schools open is essential for tracking and tracing.

Michael Allen said: “We know where the children are. We can trace, we have tight protocols in school, we can oversee that.

“I would just worry that a circuit-breaker might lead these children to essentially go out and do their normal socialising and then the tracing absolutely falls apart,” he warned.

In Northern Ireland, the number of positive test results is now doubling every seven days and the number of hospital admissions every nine days.

If they remain on that trajectory, hospitals like Altnagelvin are two weeks away from having more patients than they did during the first wave.

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