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More than 5,000 new cases as Health Minister urges participation in Covid-19 antiviral drugs study

There have been five further Covid-related deaths reported in Northern Ireland in the last 24 hours.

The total number of deaths now stands at 3,077 – 25 of which occurred in the last seven days.

The ABC Borough accounts for 412 of those deaths. There have been 234 in the NMD district, while Mid Ulster accounts for 286 – up one since yesterday.

There have been a further 5,023 – 1,091 more than yesterday – positive cases recorded in the last 24 hours, according to the Department of Health’s latest daily dashboard update. There have been 30,808 positive cases in the last seven days.

There were 746 positive cases in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon – the second highest in NI. There were 403 cases in Mid Ulster while Newry, Mourne and Down recorded 589. Belfast – the highest in NI – recorded 843 positive cases.

There are 393 – up 22 – patients in hospitals across Northern Ireland as a result of the virus, 21 – down two – of whom are in intensive care units.

A total of 271 Covid patients have been discharged in the last seven days while there have been 178 admissions during the same period.

Currently, there are 101 – down five – Covid patients in the Southern Trust area, 67 – down four – of whom are in Craigavon Area Hospital. There are 14 – down two – in Daisy Hill Hospital.

There are five ICU beds available across Northern Ireland.

Hospital occupancy in Northern Ireland currently stands at 104%.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Robin Swann has urged people in Northern Ireland to take part in a world-leading study on life-saving COVID-19 antiviral drugs.

The PANORAMIC trial, run by the University of Oxford, is open to the over-50s, as well as adults with an underlying health condition, if they test positive for COVID-19. Around 4,500 participants across the UK have already signed up to the study, but thousands more are being recruited.

The Minister said: “Vaccines remain our most important defence against the effects of COVID-19, but these antivirals are vital in helping to protect the most vulnerable from serious illness and hospitalisation.

“Patients from Northern Ireland are among the thousands who have received the new drugs but at least 6,000 more participants are needed across the UK as soon as possible. This is so that expert scientists can understand more about how to deploy these life saving treatments in the health service more widely later in the year.

“If you’re eligible, please step forward for the PANORAMIC trial and play your part in helping us to learn more about medicines which could save thousands of lives.”

Antivirals are medicines which are swallowed as a capsule to help treat people with COVID-19 infections to reduce the risk of hospitalisations and death. Molnupiravir, which is currently being deployed through the study, has shown to reduce this for at risk, non-hospitalised adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 by 30% – potentially saving thousands of lives once the drugs are widely available in the health service.

Anyone over the age of 50, or between 18 to 49 with an underlying health condition, can sign up to the study as soon as they receive a positive PCR or lateral flow test result. They need to be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms that began in the last five days to be eligible to enrol.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Michael McBride said: “Antivirals are used after someone contracts the virus to slow it down, make symptoms less severe and complications less common. It’s so important that those vulnerable to COVID-19 have the best possible chance of staying protected against the virus and, most importantly, staying out of hospital. Antivirals can help with this. If you’re eligible for PANORAMIC please give serious consideration to taking part. This will help us decide how to use COVID-19 antiviral drugs for many years to come.”

Several local GP-led research hubs are being established to ensure people in Northern Ireland get access to this new COVID-19 treatment, and those offering to participate in the trial will help researchers find out if it reduces symptoms and protects the most vulnerable in the community from needing hospital treatment.

Professor Nigel Hart, co-lead of the primary care group of the Northern Ireland Clinical Research Network (NICRN) and Lead Investigator for PANORAMIC in Northern Ireland, said: “Although vaccines remain the first line of defence against COVID-19 we still require treatments for those who contract the virus. This study is evaluating anti-viral medications and there are already encouraging results, however we need to quickly generate further information to help inform UK wide plans for their routine prescribing. The best way to do this is in a clinical trial.”

The government, through the Antivirals Taskforce, has procured 4.98m courses of antivirals – including 2.23m courses of Molnupiravir and 2.75m courses of PF-07321332/ritonavir (also called Paxlovid).

Chief Pharmaceutical Officer Cathy Harrison said: “Antivirals are an important addition to our response to COVID-19 and we have secured access to two important products for patients in Northern Ireland. Getting people enrolled onto this study will inform how we may deploy these medicines more widely as soon as possible. It is vital for that we continue to focus on the development and evaluation of new treatments for COVID-19.”

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