Northern Ireland could see 3,000 deaths in a “first wave” of the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Health has warned.
Expert modelling has indicated there could be second wave later in 2020 in the absence of a vaccine or sufficient population immunity.
The study indicates the first wave will peak between 6 and 20 April.
So far 28 people of 586 who have tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland have died.
Based on local data, the study sets out a reasonable worst-case scenario, assuming a two-thirds reduction in contacts due to social distancing, and 70% of those with symptoms self-isolating.
Under these circumstances, the modelling suggests the peak hospital admissions would be around 500 per week.
It also indicates that 180 patients would need ventilation and 3,000 people would lose their lives during 20 weeks of the pandemic.
‘Social distancing saves lives’
The health service “would have a realistic prospect of coping in this initial period if a sufficient proportion of the population adhere to the social distancing and self-isolation measures,” Health Minister Robin Swann told the BBC.
“Even then, a reasonable worst case scenario would involve significant loss of life in Northern Ireland.
“In addition, the absence of a vaccine means we will have to plan for a potential second wave of Covid-19 cases later in the year,” he said.
The authors of the modelling team have said their work is for planning purposes and should not be viewed as a prediction.