Health Minister Robin Swann stands firm on schools: ‘Step-by-step approach was the correct decision’

Health Minister Robin Swann has said he would “rather be too cautious than reckless” when it comes to the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

By Niall Deeney
Wednesday, 24th February 2021, 5:46 pm
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th February 2021

Health Minister, Robin Swann, Patricia Donnelly, Head of the Covid-19 Vaccine Programme and Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride pictured at a press conference in Parliament Buildings. 
 
Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th February 2021 Health Minister, Robin Swann, Patricia Donnelly, Head of the Covid-19 Vaccine Programme and Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride pictured at a press conference in Parliament Buildings. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

The Minister made those comments as he defended the decision by the Northern Ireland Executive not to opt for the return of all school pupils early next month, following calls from the DUP for the schools issue to be “revisted”.

Last week, the Northern Ireland Executive agreed that pupils up to Primary Three can return for two weeks from March 8, after which time they will return to remote learning.

At that stage, pupils in the GCSE and A-Level year groups would return to schools until the Easter holiday.

But following an announcement from Prime Mnister Boris Johnson that all pupils of all ages would return to schol on March 8, the DUP have stepped up the pressure to overturn the phased approach in Northern Ireland.

Mr Swann, however, insisted at a Stormont press conference on Wednesday that the “step-by-step” return favoured by the majority of parties in the Northern Ireland Executive last week was the “correct” decision.

“We are all aware that schools have been in the headline this week. Let me make it clear, as the father of two primary school age children I want to see our schools fully open as much as anyone else.

“But I want to see that happen when it’s safe and sensible to do so.”

He continued: “The medical and scientific advice was to act with caution. Whilst I note that England has made the decision to open all schools, it is also important to recognise Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland have all decided on something else.

“We should not apologise for taking our own decisions — otherwise what is the point of devolution.

“The gradual, step-by-step approach agreed collectively by the Executive, I believe, was the correct one.”

Reflecting on a year since the first confirmed case of coronavirus was detected in Northern Ireland, Mr Swann said: “We’ve been through a lot together over the last 12 months and the pandemic has left lasting scars on families and communities.

“While we can see better times ahead we need to maintain our efforts. This isn’t over yet.”

Mr Swann also highlighted the achievements of Northern Ireland’s coronavirus vaccine roll-out.

““In no way would I want to downplay the achievement of our vaccination programme,” he said.

“It is something that all of Northern Ireland should be proud of.”

It was revealed during the press conference that 509,580 doses have now been administered — 478,235 of which were first doses.

The head of the vaccination programme, Patricia Donnelly, said 95% of those aged over 80, 90% of those 75-79, 84% of those 70-74, 69% of those 65-69, and 39% of the clinicially vulnerable have had jabs.