Senior doctors specialising in infectious diseases have written an open letter expressing “concern” about the rapid increase in Covid-19 cases in Northern Ireland.
The letter is signed by 13 medics from hospitals across Northern Ireland.
It calls for the public to stick to government guidance on reducing social interactions.
It also warns against “stigmatising people and areas with high levels of infection.”
The letter reads: “We need to support people who test positive.
“This pandemic requires us to work together to bring it under control urgently.
“We need to reduce the potential for transmission to protect our health service, and we need to fix our test and trace system to try and gain better control of this virus in our community.
“If the current trajectory continues and we don’t gain control of this urgently, it will become harder to bring under control.”
On Monday, 616 new cases of Covid-19 were identified in Northern Ireland, bringing the total during the pandemic to 14,690.
The number of deaths recorded by the Department of Health remains at 584.
Among those who have signed the letter are Dr Claire Donnelly, a consultant physician who specialises in infectious diseases; consultant virologist Dr Conall McCaughey and consultant paediatrician Dr Sharon Christie.
Entitled an “appeal to people to adhere to Covid public health guidance”, the letter lays bare the stark reality of the infections rates.
The letter adds: “Worryingly the number of cases is increasing rapidly in many areas over the last week, indicating that we have widespread community transmission in many parts of Northern Ireland.
“We are in an exponential or rapid growth phase when cases can quickly rise and overload our health care system.
“The proportion of tests that are positive compared to the overall number of tests is an important indicator of the level of community transmission.
“There remains clear evidence that Covid is a serious disease with the ability to cause severe illness and suffering for people and their families.
The medic say that data shows the “increase is real and not due to expanded testing.”
They add: “We appeal to everybody in Northern Ireland to do their utmost to reduce social interactions immediately, to follow social distancing of two metres or more, to wear face coverings as recommended, to practise hand hygiene, to get tested and self-isolate, to limit spread when they have symptoms and to use the NI Covid App.”
In response, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care, said: “NHS Test and Trace is providing tests at an unprecedented scale – with around 250,000 a day on average over the last week.
“We are targeting testing capacity at the areas that need it most, including those where there is an outbreak, and prioritising at-risk groups.
“Since NHS Test and Trace launched, over 580,000 people have been told to self-isolate, helping to reduce transmission of the virus and save lives.”