Scroll down for more on this story.
LIVE BLOG: First person in NI to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech will be a vaccinator
Last updated: Friday, 04 December, 2020, 16:46
- Six deaths and 449 new infections in last 24 hours
- First person in NI to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech will be a vaccinator
- Schools could remain closed in January if R-number increases
- Hopes rising NI could find way to vaccinate care home residents quicker
Some parents in NI are planning to stop their children from attending school after December 11 because they want to avoid the possibility of having to self-isolate over Christmas
Some parents in Northern Ireland are determined for their families will avoid having to self-isolate over Christmas that they plan to stop their children from attending school one week earlier than the official end of term date.
We spoke to three parents with children at two different schools in Northern Ireland.
The parents asked us not to include their names.
The Education Minister Peter Weir has been unequivocal this week with his message that schools will not be closing early for Christmas.
A significant number of schools revealed last week how they were planning to close early on December 11 but Minister Weir has repeated that this is not going to happen.
In the wake of Minister Weir’s determination to keep schools open as normal some parents have said they are concerned their children could test positive for Covid-19 or come into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus in the week beginning December 14, 2020.
“If my son got Covid-19 in the week before Christmas it would mean he would have to self-isolate for 14 days which means we wouldn’t be able to spend Christmas with my mother and step-father,” said one mother.
“We haven’t seen them in months and I don’t think taking my son out of school one week early will make that much of a difference to his education but it does mean he will be less likely to catch the virus,” added the mother.
Another woman said two of her three children, who are at the same school, have both separately had to self-isolate at home for 14 days this year.
"I do not want to have to go through that again.
“Part of me doesn’t think I should them off school but at least this way they will get to spend Christmas with their cousins.”
We asked the Department of Education for a specific response to what the parents told us they were planning to do.
Some parents in Northern Ireland are determined for their families to avoid self-isolating over Christmas that they plan to stop their children from attending school one week early.
“Schools should not change or extend their Christmas holidays or close early this term," a DE spokesperson told us.
“Children should continue to attend school until the last day of term unless they have been told to self-isolate," the spokesperson added.
The time and date when the first person in NI will receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine have been confirmed
The first person to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in Northern Ireland will be given the jab at 8am on Tuesday next week, the PA news agency understands.
The recipient will be a vaccinator who will also be involved in administering the vaccination rollout.
Meanwhile, another six people have died with Covid-19, the Department of Health said.
Another 449 people tested positive.
A total of 2,752 were diagnosed over the last seven days.
NI schools to remain closed in January if R-number increases in next few weeks
The Education Minister, Peter Weir, could keep schools in Northern Ireland closed for longer than is normal in January if the R-number (infection rate) reaches a specific level over the coming weeks, according to The Stephen Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster.
A minister within the Executive told Stephen Nolan while Minister Weir will not close schools early for Christmas he may have to consider keeping them closed longer than he would like in January if the infection rate increases.
Many health experts, including the Chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) in Northern Ireland, Dr. Tom Black, infections and hospital admissions will inevitably rise as a direct result of the easing of restrictions on December 11 and from December 23 to 27 when up to three households will be permitted to meet up indoors, in a place of worship or an outdoor public place.
We contacted the Department of Education and have asked if it would like to issue a response.
“We do not comment on media speculation," a DE spokesperson told us.
“The Minister has consistently made the position on schools clear.
“Further unnecessary time away from the classroom will only cause greater disruption to children’s education and lead to an increase in levels of stress and anxiety.
“The Minister’s main priority is to guard children’s education, mental health and well-being.”
Non-essential retailers in Northern Ireland given go-ahead to reopen on December 11
Non-essential retailers can reopen next Friday in Northern Ireland, ministers have said - write Michael McHugh and David Young, PA.
The two-week circuit-breaker ends on December 11.
Businesses such as restaurants, cafes and hotels can also resume trading then but must be closed at 11pm each day.
Pubs that do not serve food will have to remain closed.
Guidance about social distancing within cafes and restaurants is to be set at two metres, the Stormont executive decided.
Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster said: “More good news to come after yesterday’s vaccine developments.
“Common commitment across the executive to make Christmas time as good as possible as we continue the fight against Covid.”
Another 11 people have died with Covid-19, the Department of Health said on Thursday.
Some 456 people have tested positive and the seven-day total for diagnoses was 2,646.
The two-week circuit-break was designed to drive the rate of infection down ahead of Christmas and has emptied high streets and prompted warnings about job losses from businesses.
Mrs Foster said: “Most of the restrictions will come to an end next Thursday.
“Non-essential retail will open again, our hotels and restaurants will open again.
“Unfortunately those pubs known as wet pubs, which only serve alcohol, they will not reopen.”
She said official guidance would be issued around people coming into businesses on subjects like queuing and keeping apart.
“The guidance will say two metres and it is important that people try and abide by that guidance as well as taking other mitigating actions,” she added.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill gave more details for plans during the five days of Christmas, when restrictions on socialising will be relaxed.
She said: “Three households can come together, one of those households can bring their bubble.”
A bubble is formed when two households have linked into a support network during the pandemic.
Ms O’Neill urged people to have a “safe and careful” Christmas.
Mrs Foster said: “Churches will reopen again at a very special time of year for those people of faith.
“Weddings and funerals go back to a position where it is risk assessed as to how many people you have at a wedding or, sadly, at a funeral.”
She said sporting events can proceed with a maximum of 500 spectators, with some exclusions surrounding schools.
The director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium Aodhan Connolly, who represents larger stores, said: “It won’t make up for the loss of two weeks trading during what is our golden quarter, especially when retailers already had been feeling the squeeze of decreased footfall and increased costs, but it is still welcome.
“We have always said it is not about what you sell but how you sell it and by the end of the year the retail industry will have invested over £15 million in Northern Ireland to make stores safe.
“We will continue to play our part but we will need continued support from the executive.”
Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster – who represents publicans, said the decision was “unfair and unjust”.
He said: “This is nothing but terrible news for owners and staff in traditional pubs who have once again been unfairly singled out to bear the brunt of the Covid lockdown for the greater good.
“Our traditional pubs have only been open for three weeks since March (two weeks in Derry/Strabane) so they cannot be responsible for the spread of the virus.
“Despite that, the opportunity for them to trade and try and recoup a small amount of the massive losses they have suffered throughout this year has now been taken away.”
NI intensive care unit nurses quitting jobs to walk dogs for living because of pressure from Covid-19
Experienced intensive care unit (ICU) nurses caring for Covid-19 patients in Northern Ireland hospitals have felt under so much pressure that some of them have quit her jobs to walk dogs for a living or to work in supermarkets - writes Andrew Quinn, Social Media Editor.
People Before Profit MLA, Gerry Carroll, Alliance Party MLA, Paula Bradshaw and DUP MLA, Pam Cameron all raised concerns on behalf of ICU nurses all over Northern Ireland during a meeting of the Stormont health committee on Thursday morning.
The meeting was with Health Minister, Robin Swann, Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Michael McBride and the Head of Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 Vaccine Programme, Patricia Donnelly - all three attended the meeting via videolink.
Health Minister Swann had a limited amount of time he could appear before the committee which meant members were not able to scrutinise issues as much as they would have liked.
Just before he exited the meeting, Minister Swann was asked by Gerry Carroll about the pressure ICU nurses in Northern Ireland are currently under.
“We spoke to ICU nurses this week and they told us they are administering last rites to patients, ringing families,” said the People Before Profit, MLA.
“They are at absolute breaking point, they are really stressed, they are being told by their GPs to take time off work but they can’t.”
Mr. Carroll added: “They have a list of concerns but they don’t feel like these concerns are being taken seriously by the chief executives of the health trusts or in the upper echelons of the Department of Health.
“These nurses are doing the work of band six workers but getting paid a band five wage.”
Minister Swann said he was aware of the pressure the nurses were under and explained the DoH is working on addressing the issue concerning salaries.
“To say the stresses and strains of our ICU nurse are not filtering through to my department is an understatement - I am fully aware of the stresses and strains they are under,” said Minister Swann.
“Our chief nursing officer is currently doing some work on a banding issue around band five and band six - ICU nurses and trusts are aware of this.
“If any of our staff need time off work because of stress etc they are entitled to take this time - it’s available to anyone who needs this help and support.”
Alliance Party, MLA, Paula Bradshaw, quizzed the minister on where his department was with the introduction of specific legislation that would help address the concerns of the ICU nurses.
“You promised many months ago you would bring forward safe staffing legislation - a lot of what myself and Gerry heard when we were talking with the ICU nurses was that they are not working in a safe environment. When will you be bringing the safe staffing legislation forward to this committee for scrutiny?”
Minister Swann replied: “That is one of the pieces of work the Executive committed to and it is already ongoing.
“The work has started but I don’t know if we will have time to get it through during this mandate.
“But what I will says is that for the sake of our workforce we have to get right.”
Speaking after Minister Swann left the meeting, DUP MLA Pam Cameron said she was “horrified” at the response he gave when asked about safe staffing legislation within the health service.
Ms. Cameron said it was of the utmost importance particularly because of what she had discovered while meeting with the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) on Wednesday evening.
“Certainly, I had a long meeting last night with RCN and it’s horrendous what the nurses are facing.
“I was so disappointed at the response Paula (Bradshaw) got when she asked about the legislation for safe staffing - to hear a conversation has started - I am horrified - the nurses feel they are in much worse position than they were in a year ago - it’s shameful.
“I am hearing about ICU nurses resigning their posts to go and dog walk and to work in supermarkets, such is the pressure they are under.”
Hopes rising NI could find way to vaccinate care home residents quicker
Hopes are rising that Northern Ireland could find a way of delivering vaccine more speedily to care homes - write Michael McHugh and David Young, PA.
The size of batches and the extremely low temperature which it must be stored at poses transport difficulties.
Logistical experts have been in discussions with service providers in a bid to overcome the obstacles.
A Stormont Department of Health statement said: “The Department of Health is working hard to explore all options, liaising with other jurisdictions and is determined to get vaccines to care homes as soon as feasibly possible.
“The logistical challenges linked to the Pfizer vaccine are well documented but we are continuing to explore all avenues within the conditions set out by the regulating body MHRA.”
Pauline Shepherd, chief executive of Independent Health and Care Providers, said she had been in recent discussions on the issue.
She added: “They seem to be finding a way to make Pfizer more viable for distribution to care homes.”
She envisaged they would be more likely to find a solution for larger care homes.
The jabs will initially be stored in packs of 997 doses in specialist freezers before onward distribution. The Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at a temperature of -70C.
The pack size means it is most suited to settings in which people, like health care staff, can travel to large mass centres to receive the doses.
Mobile units are designed to transport vaccine to nursing homes, with their frail population.
Ms Shepherd added: “They are trying to find ways around splitting the package in some way, making sure that if the package is split it is transported in a way that will not diminish the value of it.”
Care home residents in Scotland will be able to receive the Pfizer Covid vaccine from 14 December, the country’s health secretary has confirmed.
Jeanne Freeman said confirmation on how it can be transported and stored meant it would now be possible to deliver them to care homes.
Stormont deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill said care homes were her number one priority.
She added: “We expect to have a second vaccine approved, hopefully before the end of they year.
“That is the one that can be deployed into care homes straight away, so it is a matter of weeks.”
The first vaccines are expected to be given to health workers in Northern Ireland next week.