Northern Ireland records its first day with zero new COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the outbreak

The Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard has reported that today, the 20th of June, is the first day since the 10th of March with zero new COVID-19 cases.

Over the last 7 days, 25 individuals tested positive out of the 5,964 that were tested, giving a positive test rate of 0.42%. This is low in an international context. For comparison, the chart below shows Northern Ireland’s positive test rate compared with the most recent data available for a range of countries.

By comparison, the positive test rate in the Republic of Ireland was 0.63%, 2.02% in the United Kingdom overall, 11.3% in Sweden, 22.5% in Argentina and over 50% in Bolivia.

For the month of June to date, there have been 126 new cases in Northern Ireland. Ards and North Down is by far the council area with the most cases (45, or 36%). As of today, it has been 29 days since the last reported case in the Derry City and Strabane council area, and 17 days since the last case in the Fermanagh and Omagh area.

With a low volume of cases and a low positive testing rate, Northern Ireland can genuinely claim to be the envy of much of the rest of the world with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, all the progress made so far could be reversed very rapidly. It is vital now that the Northern Ireland Executive shows the political will to take the decisions to ensure that the number of cases stays low.

There is now a mounting body of evidence that masks work at preventing the spread of the virus. YouGov data suggests that around 20% of the population wear masks locally, and we should be aiming for this to be much higher.

Also, a major risk now is that Northern Ireland could import new cases of the virus. New Zealand has shown that travel restrictions work (and the consequences when the restrictions are ignored). Serious consideration should be given to introducing a requirement that all travellers to Northern Ireland from outside the island of Ireland self-isolate for a period.

There is a momentous opportunity to crush the curve in Northern Ireland for good. It must not be squandered.

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