Arlene Foster confident easing of restrictions will start next Tuesday - Executive agrees to change decision concerning youngest schoolchildren and remote learning - 'Superbug' outbreak in NI Nightingale Covid critical care facility 'is being appropriately managed'

First Minister, Arlene Foster, has hinted that the Northern Ireland Executive could announce its first easing of restrictions next Tuesday.

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 5:07 pm
Updated Thursday, 11th March 2021, 5:46 pm

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First Minister, Arlene Foster.

LIVE UPDATES: Coronavirus NI - ’Superbug’ outbreak in NI Nightingale Covid critical care facility ‘is being appropriately managed’

Last updated: Wednesday, 10 March, 2021, 17:58

'Superbug' outbreak spreads to critically ill Covid patients in NI Nightingale facility

Critically ill patients with Covid-19 requiring intensive care in Northern Ireland's Nightingale facility in Belfast City Hospital have been infected with a superbug known as Glycopeptide Resistant Enterococci (GRE), the Public Health Agency (PHA) has confirmed.

A spokesperson for the PHA said: “The PHA has been notified by the Belfast Heath and Social Care Trust of a number of patients with Glycopeptide Resistant Enterococci (GRE) infection at the Nightingale’s Critical Care Unit.

“The Trust is leading on the management of this incident, the PHA will provide infection prevention control advice if and when required.”

We also contacted Belfast Health and Social Care Trust but they had not yet provided a response.

What is ‘GRE’?

GRE stands for Glycopeptide Resistant Enterococci. Enterococci are bacteria (germs) that are commonly found in the bowels (gut) of most humans.

There are many different species of enterococci but only a few have the potential to cause infections in humans. Glycopeptide resistant enterococci are bacteria that are resistant to the group of antibiotics known as Glycopeptides.

These include Vancomycin and Teicoplanin. GRE are sometimes referred to as VRE – which stands for Vancomycin Resistant Enterococci.

How does it spread?

There are two main ways to contract GRE / VRE infections: if the bacteria (which can live harmlessly in a person’s bowel) are transferred to other areas of the body, e.g. wounds or directly from person to person on the hands, or indirectly from contaminated equipment that has not been cleaned properly.

What infections does it cause?

GRE can cause wound infections and blood poisoning. However, it can also cause infections of the bile duct or urinary tract.

Are some people more at risk than others?

The main risk factors for GRE / VRE infections are: prolonged hospital stay; antibiotic treatment and intensive care treatment.

NI Executive set to decide on ALL schools on Thursday

The Northern Ireland Executive will decide when all children can safely return to school when it meets tomorrow.

Education Minister Peter Weir is expected to recommend the Executive back his plan for facilitating the return to school for all primary school pupils before the Easter break and April 12 for all other grammar and secondary school students.

At the moment, pre-school, nursery, primary one, primary two and primary three are all back in the classroom and will remain there to March 22, 2021.

These children will then revert to remote learning from March 22 until the Easter break.

Years 12, 13 and 14 will return to school for face-to-face learning for the week beginning March 22.

It is expected that Minister Weir will also recommend that primary one, two and three also be allowed to maintain face-to-face learning instead of reverting to remote learning on March 22.

The Executuive will meet to discuss Covid-19 tomorrow and should it reach an agreement the details will be confirmed by First Minsiter, Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill at a press conference on Thursday evening.

Eight additional Covid-19 deaths recorded in last 24 hours

Eight more people who had previously tested positive for coronavirus have died in Northern Ireland.

The latest data from the Department of Health also shows another 147 people have tested positive for the virus in the last 24 hours.

There were 212 Covid-19 confirmed inpatients on Wednesday morning, 29 of whom were in intensive care.

The Kent variant may be up to twice as deadly as previous strains of coronavirus, new research suggests.

The most dominant strain of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland, namely B117 (the Kent variant), could be twice as deadly previous strains of the virus a new study suggests - writes Nina Massey, PA Science Correspondent.

The more infectious variant, B117, which swept across the UK at the end of last year before spreading across the world, is between 30% and 100% more deadly, according to a new study.

Epidemiologists from the Universities of Exeter and Bristol said the data suggests the variant is associated with a significantly higher mortality rate among adults diagnosed in the community compared with previously circulating strains.

Robert Challen, from the University of Exeter, lead author of the study, said: “In the community, death from Covid-19 is still a rare event, but the B117 variant raises the risk.

“Coupled with its ability to spread rapidly, this makes B117 a threat that should be taken seriously.”

Researchers looked at death rates among people infected with the new variant and those infected with other strains.

They found that the variant first detected in Kent led to 227 deaths in a sample of 54,906 patients – compared with 141 among the same number of closely matched patients who had the previous strains.

The variant is more transmissible and is thought to have contributed towards the rapid increase in cases before new lockdown rules were introduced across the UK.

According to the study, published in the British Medical Journal, the higher transmissibility of the Kent strain meant that more people who would previously have been considered low risk were admitted to hospital with the newer variant.

Leon Danon, from the University of Bristol, senior author of the study, said: “We focused our analysis on cases that occurred between November 2020 and January 2021, when both the old variants and the new variant were present in the UK.

“This meant we were able to maximise the number of ‘matches’ and reduce the impact of other biases. Subsequent analyses have confirmed our results.

“Sars-CoV-2 appears able to mutate quickly, and there is a real concern that other variants will arise with resistance to rapidly rolled out vaccines.

“Monitoring for new variants as they arise, measuring their characteristics and acting appropriately needs to be a key part of the public health response in the future.”

Ellen Brooks-Pollock, from the University of Bristol, said: “It was fortunate the mutation happened in a part of the genome covered by routine testing.

“Future mutations could arise and spread unchecked.”

Education Minister Peter Weir accused of ‘trying to dodge’ scrutiny of Stormont Education Committee on questions concerning the safe return to face-to-face learning

Education Minister, Peter Weir.

Northern Ireland’s Education Minister, Peter Weir, has been accused of “trying to dodge” the scrutiny of Stormont education oversight committee.

Minister Weir had been scheduled to brief the Stormont Education Committee on Wednesday morning but cancelled due to “Executive business”.

The chair of the Education Committee, Chris Lyttle MLA, told his fellow committee members that despite his best efforts the only date and time the minister can reschedule to meet with the committee before the Easter break is Tuesday March 23 at 2.00pm.

“This minister is trying to dodge the questions of this committee,” claimed SDLP MLA, Daniel McCrossan.

“I think everyone know I have very little confidence in this minister - principals in my constituency and across the North are contacting me asking me to put questions to the minister before they are told to reopen.

“I have 100 questions for this minister and yet again when questions are asked he is off wondering.”

Education Committee member and DUP MLA, Maurice Bradley, said: “I share the frustration but I really think we need to moderate our accusations,”

The Department of Education spokesperson said: “The Education Minister was due to attend the Education Committee this morning.

“Unfortunately on this occasion the Minister was unable to attend due to an Executive meeting at which all Ministers were required to attend. 

“The Department offered to send officials in the Minister’s place.

“The Department informed the Committee on 5 March that the Minister could not attend and provided a number of alternative dates in March.   The Minister will now be attending the Education Committee on 23 March.”

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