Covid rates ‘will keep rising if schools and hospitality remain open’

Robin Swann
Robin Swann - (Copyright PA Media)
16:35pm, Tue 13 Oct 2020
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Covid-19 infection rates will keep rising if schools and the hospitality sector remain open, a paper from Northern Ireland’s health minister has warned.

Advice from health and scientific experts has been submitted by Robin Swann for Stormont ministers to consider.

The weekly meeting of the powersharing administration, scheduled for Thursday, was brought forward in an indication that decisions on fresh restrictions are imminent amid rapidly increased virus spread.

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Earlier this week, First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, Health Minister Robin Swann and Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride attended a Cobra meeting.

She told the Assembly they received an update on the “current state of play” across the UK.

“The Prime Minister updated us in relation to his three-tiered approach from an English point of view, hoping that across the United Kingdom we would have similar approaches to allow us to access funding to assist those when we may have to close down businesses or sectors.”

“It was an important meeting and we have to follow up on some of the issues what were raised at the meeting.”

These are huge decisions, none of them are easy.

Mrs Foster also spoke of her concern at the “very high level” of transmission of the virus, and the “unenviable position” that part of the region has the highest rate in the UK.

“We will have an Executive meeting later on this afternoon to discuss the issue and discuss what it is we can do as an Executive to try and halt the rise of Covid-19,” she said.

“Some people have said it is about health vs wealth, I think that is a completely false analysis … poverty kills and unemployment kills as well. Therefore it is a balancing act between making sure that we deal with Covid-19 but that we also try and protect our economy, protect our society as we know it and indeed family life as we know it.

“These are huge decisions, none of them are easy.”

A further seven deaths with Covid-19 and another 863 were reported by the Department of Health on Tuesday.

Some 6,286 new positive cases of the virus have been detected in the last seven days, bringing the total number of cases in the region to 21,898.

There are currently 150 patients in hospitals with Covid-19, including 23 in intensive care.

Derry City and Strabane Council area remains the worst hit in Northern Ireland, with a case incidence rate of 970 per 100,000 people over the last seven days.

That is more than double the next highest rate, which is 462 per 100,000 in Belfast.

Mid Ulster now has a rate of 401, while the Newry, Mourne and Down Council area has a prevalence of 315 per 100,000.

Mid and East Antrim remains the areas with the lowest infection rate, at 95 per 100,000.

Dr McBride and chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young have already recommended a country-wide lockdown lasting four to six weeks.

Michael McBride - (Copyright PA Media)

The aim is to reduce the reproduction rate of the virus to below one infected for every person diagnosed.

Ministers have been warned that it is not considered likely that the R rate can be less than one with both schools and hospitality open.

Officials previously urged school closures for a period within the lockdown, though not necessarily for the entirety of it.

They have said action needs to be taken within days and have identified the six-week lockdown as providing the best chance of Northern Ireland reaching Christmas without the need for another.

HEALTH Coronavirus - (Copyright PA Graphics)

Mrs Foster indicated on Monday that she is not in favour of closing schools.

The suggestion of a six-week, Northern Ireland-wide lockdown was questioned by a senior DUP MP.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson queried why such a move would be required across the region, given the marked variations in infection rates in different areas.

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