Coronavirus restrictions ‘needed until next year’ says NI Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride

Coronavirus restrictions will still be needed until next year, Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride has said.

By Niall Deeney
Tuesday, 9th February 2021, 4:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th February 2021, 4:49 pm

He said “some degree of the current restrictions” would “certainly” be needed for the rest of this year and “probably enhanced again” towards the autumn.

The Chief Medical Officer, who provides advice directly to the Health Minister Robin Swann and to the Northern Ireland Executive, said the emergence of new variants of coronavirus had ‘complicated’ matters.

He had been asked by the News Letter, during a weekly briefing with members of the media, whether he could identify a point in the roll-out of the vaccination programme when it would be possible to begin to ease restrictions.

“These are the three things we’re trying to achieve - those most at risk vaccinated, a sufficient ring of people around those most at risk vaccinated, and community transmission low,” Dr McBride said.

“When those conditions are met, then it would be safer to ease some of the current restrictions.”

“Now, in terms of looking at this on a population basis we estimate that we would need somewhere in the region of 70-80% of the population vaccinated to have an impact in terms of levels of transmission for us to think about easing of restrictions.”

He continued: “However, that now needs to be qualified by to what extent new variants appear, to what extent those variants escape from the natural immunity for people who had already been infected with the old variant, or to what escape those variants escape from the antibodies generated by vaccination.

So the problem has just become more complicated and more complex, so it’s very difficult to give a definitive endpoint. We’ve never given definitive endpoints because the virus doesn’t read the rule-book, it doesn’t follow our timelines.

“I suspect that we will require some degree of the current restrictions, certainly for the rest of this year, and probably enhanced again towards the autumn and winter of this year, and I think it will probably be into the following year before we see things a little more normal,” Dr McBride said.

“In the meantime, I hope that this summer will be a little bit like last summer — hopefully we will be able to do some of the things we thought were wonderful to do last summer.”

Later, Dr McBride clarified that the 70-80% vaccination rate necessary includes both doses of coronavirus vaccine.


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