Coronavirus NI - New Nightingale hospital for NI as second wave preparations are stepped up | ‘More people are going to die’ says Health Minister Robin Swann | Two Coronavirus related deaths recorded in last 24 hours

Health Minister Robin Swann has said “more people [in Northern Ireland] are going to die” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wednesday, 2nd September 2020, 5:59 pm

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Health Minister Robin Swann during the daily media broadcast at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, in Belfast.

Coronavirus in Northern Ireland - Wednesday September 2, 2020

Last updated: Thursday, 03 September, 2020, 18:22

  • NI Executive commissions a second Nightingale facility to help NHS through winter
  • Two additional COVID-19 related deaths recorded in last 24 hours
  • Concern over cleaning of NI schools and buses transporting children
  • EXCLUSIVE: NI set to be hardest hit region of UK as furlough winds down

Boris Johnson accused of ‘U-turn followed by U-turn’ after declining to meet bereaved group

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

Boris Johnson has been accused of a fresh U-turn after declining to meet campaigners representing families bereaved during the Coronavirus pandemic, writes Sam Blewett, Press Association Political Correspondent.

The Prime Minister said “of course I will meet the bereaved” when questioned last week in an interview about attempts by the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group to secure a meeting.

But the campaigners trying to secure a swift public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the crisis shared a letter from Mr Johnson in which he “regrettably” declined to meet with the group.

“It’s a U-turn followed by a U-turn,” said campaign co-founder Jo Goodman, who lost her father Stuart to the virus.

“The Prime Minister has done a 360: dodging five letters, then agreeing on live TV to meet with us, and now quietly telling us he’s too busy. It’s heartless.”

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran had earlier written to the Prime Minister saying she was “shocked” to learn that he had “refused” to meet the group – which says it represents 1,600 families.

On Wednesday, Mr Johnson told Sky News: “I am not aware of those letters but I will of course write back to every letter we get.

“Of course I will meet the bereaved.”

But writing to Ms Goodman, the Prime Minister acknowledged “a letter will be of little comfort against the grief and heartbreak that families have suffered” as he declined a meeting.

“As much as I would wish to be able to offer my condolences in person to all those who have suffered loss, that is regrettably not possible and so I am unable to meet with you and members of Bereaved Families for Justice,” he wrote.

Mr Johnson also said he understands the group have instructed solicitors who are in pre-action legal correspondence over an independent inquiry.

He said he will hold the inquiry “at the appropriate time” and urged all further correspondence to be dealt with by their respective legal teams.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister has responded to Bereaved Families For Justice to express his sincere condolences to all families who have sadly lost loved ones to this terrible disease.

“He remains committed to meeting with members of the public and families of key workers who have been bereaved as a result of Covid-19.

“The Prime Minister is resolute in his determination to beat this virus and prevent further families from suffering such dreadful loss.”

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said: “These revelations that bereaved families had to write to Boris Johnson five times asking to meet him – for him to privately go back on his public word and refuse are astounding, and upsetting for so many whose families and lives have been impacted by Covid in this way.

“41,504 people have tragically lost their lives to this virus. The very least the Prime Minister could do is respond truthfully to their families, and have the heart to meet some of them and their representatives.

“The Prime Minister has been going back on his word all summer – but to not even meet with grieving families hits a new low.”

More than £2 billion spent on NI Coronavirus response

An Emergency Department Nurse during a demonstration of the Coronavirus pod and COVID-19 virus testing procedures set-up beside the Emergency Department of Antrim Area Hospital, Co Antrim in Northern Ireland.

More than £2 billion has been spent in response to the coronavirus pandemic in Northern Ireland, the audit office said, writes Michael McHugh from Press Association.

Three ministerial directions ordering speedy payment of support grants to businesses were issued by economy minister Diane Dodds.

There have been ministerial directions across other UK jurisdictions on Covid-19 initiatives.

The Department for the Economy offered support to local businesses struggling to survive as a result of public compliance with social distancing and isolation regulations, the watchdog said.

Due to the tight time frame Ms Dodds’ officials had concerns as to whether they could provide sufficient evidence of the likely value for money of the schemes, or sufficient assurance on the risk of loss through error or fraud, a report said.

By July 24, the UK Government had confirmed that it would provide £2.2 billion to Northern Ireland to fund Covid-19 initiatives.

Comptroller and auditor general Kieran Donnelly said: “The challenge of responding to the Covid-19 pandemic is unlike any the Northern Ireland executive has ever faced.

“The scale of its response is similarly unprecedented. The executive was required to quickly introduce multiple measures supporting vulnerable individuals and businesses facing a major reduction in income.

“My report gives an overview of these measures, but no assessment of the value for money of individual measures has been made at this point.”

The total cost of the Covid‐19 response relating to Northern Ireland, at August 2020, is estimated to be just over £2 billion, the spending watchdog said.

This excludes the Northern Ireland cost of the furlough scheme.

The approach to measuring regional expenditure is still being

refined, and so the cost relating to Northern Ireland cannot be established at this time, the audit office said.

When known, this will increase the total estimated cost materially, as almost 250,000 employments have been furloughed by August.

Grants paid to local firms by the economy department included those worth £25,000 for hospitality, retail and tourism businesses, a £10,000 grant for small companies and a micro-business hardship fund.

Mr Donnelly added: “There will undoubtedly be important lessons to learn, and this report provides my office with the basis for a programme of work evaluating how public money has been spent during this period.

“For example, as an initial step, we intend to examine arrangements surrounding the supply of personal protective equipment in Northern Ireland; the support provided to lessen the impact on vulnerable groups; and the wider impact of Covid-19 on public sector income.”

To this point, the Stormont executive’s response to Covid-19 has been funded by £1.28 billion received from the UK Government or the executive and approximately £465 million either reallocated from within existing Northern Ireland departmental budgets, or part of additional departmental bids submitted to the executive.

Approximately 70% of total estimated costs identified in the report relate to activities across three departments, health, economy and finance.

The Department of Health funded working at the front line, treating infected patients.

The Department of Finance offered a range of business and rate reliefs for individuals and businesses.

A spokesperson for Department for the Economy said: “The department is content that it took the necessary, swift action to support tens of thousands of businesses facing serious difficulties, or failure, caused by the Covid-19 crisis.

“The measures taken by the minister were supported by the executive. The evaluation of these schemes will take place in due course.”

EXCLUSIVE: NI set to be hardest hit region of UK as furlough winds down

NI school bus drivers fear for their own safety and that of schoolchildren because of ‘insufficient’ resources to clean buses and make them COVID-safe

Thomas McMichael, school bus driver.

Fears have been expressed over the hygiene of schools and school buses in Northern Ireland.

The Education Committee for Northern Ireland heard evidence from trade unions representatives who spoke on the behalf of school bus drivers and school cleaners on Wednesday morning.

Thomas McMichael, a school bus driver, told the committee no extra resources are being provided to ensure buses as cleaned to the standard required to make the vehicles COVID safe.

Mr. McMichael said there have been instances in the last few days where buses were cleaned with no hot water.

Mr. McMichael also said some bus drivers were taking buses home at night and cleaning them in their own driveways.

“The cleaning guidance we have been given by the Education Authority is just not possible,” said Mr. McMichal.

"It’s because of this school buses will not receive the full enhanced clean required.

“Some drivers are taking it upon themselves to take the buses home at night and cleaning them in their driveways.”

Committee member and SDLP MLA Justin McNulty asked Mr. McMichael what guidance drivers had received concerning the transportation of pupils deemed vulnerable.

“Next to nothing,” replied Mr. McMichael.

There were also concerns raised about the cleaning of schools.

Alan Law, Assistant Secretary of Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance described the funding provided by the Department of Education as 

“The funding package is wholly inadequate to address the needs of fighting this pandemic,” said Mr. Law.

"A funding package of £7 million was provided by the DE but it only equates to £6,500 per school - approximately £34 pound per school per day - these funds must cover the cost of cleaning items and the time it takes to carry out the cleaning.

Committee member and SDLP MLA, Daniel McCrossan, described the situation as “very serious”.

“This is nowhere near sufficient,” said Mr. McCrossan.

"The funding would be lucky to cater for half a classroom let alone an entire school - given the size of some of the schools we have here.

"Guidelines, yes, are absolutely necessary but if we haven't the funds to support teachers, staff and pupils then what’s the point?

“I do have a real and very serious concern that DE, the Education Minister and the Education Authority are just not listening - it is all being ignored.”

A spokesperson for the Education Authority told the News Letter: 

“Providing support to children, schools and parents is the number one priority for the Education Authority and so throughout lockdown we have continued to deliver a series of critical services.  

"Over 2000 deliveries of PPE have been made to schools throughout Northern Ireland and over 100,000 children benefited from the summer food payment scheme that was introduced following the closure of schools in March.  

"We completed summer cleans in 390 locations and provided financial relief to sustain local businesses.  

“We have continued to plan for the re-opening of schools throughout this period.  

"However the finalisation of arrangements was only possible following publication of the Department of Education’s revised guidance on 13th August.  

"We responded promptly to this and we are pleased that, despite many challenges, we have been able to provide transport for over 80,000 pupils and free school meals for 80,000 children each day.  

“In order to support this we have introduced a range of measures that reflect or exceed PHA and government guidance.  

"Over 1 million face coverings have been distributed to schools and staff in frontline services, along with almost 15,000 face shields. 

"We have installed over 700 hand sanitizer dispensers and driver cough screens in our EA school buses, and distributed extensive cleaning materials to schools, transport and cleaning staff to ensure regular cleaning of buildings and vehicles.  

“Alongside these measures we have promoted key information through a dedicated website and social media.  As schools re-open and services resume we will keep our guidance and procedures under review and will ensure we continue to respond to PHA and government guidance as it evolves.  

"More information for schools, parents and pupils is available at ”

Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory to be sung at Proms after BBC U-turn

The BBC has performed a U-turn over its decision to host instrumental versions of Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory at the Last Night of the Proms.

The songs will now feature a select group of vocalists following controversy over the lyrics’ perceived historical links with colonialism and slavery.

Musicians are performing live at the Royal Albert Hall – but without an audience due to coronavirus restrictions – across the final two weeks of the season, ending in the much-talked about Last Night.

The run-up to the Last Night has seen musicians, media industry figures and even Prime Minister Boris Johnson weigh into the debate over the pieces.

A spokesperson for the BBC Proms said: “The pandemic means a different Proms this year and one of the consequences, under Covid-19 restrictions, is we are not able to bring together massed voices.

“For that reason, we took the artistic decision not to sing Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory in the Hall.

“We have been looking hard at what else might be possible and we have a solution.

“Both pieces will now include a select group of BBC singers. This means the words will be sung in the Hall, and as we have always made clear, audiences will be free to sing along at home.

“While it can’t be a full choir, and we are unable to have audiences in the Hall, we are doing everything possible to make it special and want a Last Night truly to remember.

“We hope everyone will welcome this solution. We think the night itself will be a very special moment for the country – and one that is much needed after a difficult period for everyone.

“It will not be a usual Last Night, but it will be a night not just to look forward to, but to remember.”

The BBC’s former director-general Lord Tony Hall previously insisted the decision to remove the lyrics was a “creative” one.

But he confirmed that the issue of dropping songs because of their association with Britain’s imperial past had been discussed.

The decision comes after Lord Hall was succeeded in the role by Tim Davie.

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden reacted to the news tweeting: “Pleased to see common sense has prevailed on the BBC Proms.”

Two more people in Northern Ireland have died after testing positive for COVID-19

Breaking News Alert!

The Department of Health (DoH) has confirmed two more people have died after testing positive for COVID-19 - taking the death toll to 562.

One of the deaths occurred in the last 24 hours while the second did not.

DoH also reports that 71 new infections were identified in Northern Ireland in the last 24 hours.

Football superstar Neymar tests positive for COVID-19 according to French media

Health Minister commissions second Nightingale facility to help NHS through winter

Health Minister Robin Swann has revealed that there will be a Nightingale facility at Whiteabbey Hospital.

Nightingale facilities were built all over the United Kingdom at the beginning of the pandemic.

The facilities were designed to stop the NHS from succumbing to the additional pressure that comes with a spike in COVID-19 cases.

“Today we have learned another two people have passed away,” said Mr. Swann.

"I am devastated at this and I am more and more convinced COVD-19 is capable of another full-scale assault.

"More will die and more will suffer long term damage to their health," he added.

The first Nightingale hospital was in City Hospital in Belfast but it was wound down as the virus came under control but Minister Swann said he still has the option to reactive the facility should he deem necessary. 

Minister Swann described the new Nightingale facility at Whiteabbey Hospital as a “step down” facility with the capacity for 100 beds.

Plan announced for second Nightingale facility in Northern Ireland

Stormont health minister Robin Swann has announced a plan for a second Nightingale facility in Northern Ireland as part of a surge plan ahead what he warned could be a “tough winter” - writes Rebecca Black from Press Association.

It will be a step down facility, located in Whiteabbey Hospital, Co Antrim, and will include 100 intermediate care beds.

Mr Swann told a Stormont media briefing on Wednesday that he is “increasingly of the view that Covid-19 has the potential for another full scale assault”.

“More people will sadly lose their lives and others will suffer long term damage to their health,” he said.

“This is going to be a tough winter, the toughest winter the health service has faced in its history.

“My department is finalising a new Covid-19 surge planning strategic framework setting out our preparations for the next peak of infections and winter pressures.

“As part of this surge plan, I have approved plans for a second Nightingale facility for Northern Ireland. This will be a step down facility at Whiteabbey Hospital which will be operational by this winter in order to increase our bed capacity and relieve wider pressures.

“This Nightingale facility will provide an additional 100 regional intermediate care beds to help aid the flow of patients from ICU and acute care.”

The region previously saw a Nightingale facility opened at Belfast City Hospital to provide more intensive care beds. It was wound down in May.

Mr Swann said the facility can be brought back online if needed.

Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said modelling of potential scenarios that may be seen later this year have been carried out.

He pointed out there is a different pattern in terms of most of those testing positive for Covid-19 now, compared to March.

“For instance two thirds of those testing positive are under the age of 40, and that’s why we need to target our message particularly to that age group in terms of their behaviours and activities,” he said, adding that in March 40-50% of cases were in those aged over 60%, whereas at that moment that figure is 10%.

“It should be within our control as the minister has said, the future of this pandemic is not within control of the virus, it’s in all of our hands in terms of the actions we take and our own behaviours.”

Earlier, the department of health’s daily updates revealed that there had been two further deaths with Covid-19, as well as another 71 positive cases.

Some 463 new cases of the virus have been detected in the last seven days, bringing the total in the region to 7,365.

Most of the cases (136) over the last seven days are in the Belfast City Council area, following by 90 in the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council area.

There are currently 18 active outbreaks in care homes, a significant increase from August where the number of such outbreaks dropped to one.

The minister said it is a concern for his department.

He said a “growing testing programme” for care home staff and residents has been implemented.

“Any care home with two or more positive cases, should that be in a staff member or a resident, should it be someone who is asymptomatic, those are being classified as an outbreak so that we can interact with that home and take the steps if necessary to make sure that the staff who are identified as tested positive are isolated but also supported and those residents are isolated and supported as well,” he said.

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