It’s time to deploy army to help with Covid-19 response in Northern Ireland says Diane Dodds - NI experiencing its pandemic ‘worst case scenario’ – Michelle O’Neill - Evidence new variant is beginning to spike in Northern Ireland

DUP MLA and Minister for the Economy, Diane Dodss, has said the time has come for the Northern Ireland Executive to use the army in its response to Covid-19.

Monday, 11th January 2021, 6:03 pm

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LIVE UPDATES: Coronavirus NI - Arlene Foster defends Executive’s decision to relax rules for Christmas

Last updated: Monday, 11 January, 2021, 17:31

  • Arlene Foster defends Executive’s decision to relax rules for Christmas
  • Time to bring in the British army says Diane Dodds
  • 16 deaths and 759 new infections recorded in last 24 hours
  • Much more virulent Covid-19 variant on the increase in NI

Arlene Foster defends relaxation of restrictions over Christmas break

Stormont’s First Minister has defended the easing of Covid-19 restrictions pre-Christmas in Northern Ireland.

Arlene Foster suggested new variants of coronavirus were a significant factor in surging case numbers in the region.

After the region’s hospitals faced the most intense weekend of the pandemic to date, Mrs Foster was asked whether the executive had to shoulder the blame for loosening the rules for the festive period.

“The executive unanimously decided on our Christmas plan, as indeed did people in the Republic of Ireland, and indeed right across the United Kingdom recognising the special place that Christmas has for a lot of us,” Mrs Foster told a press conference in Co Fermanagh.

“I think it’s more than just that. I think we now know that the new variant in terms of coronavirus is here in Northern Ireland, the South African variant unfortunately appears to be in the Republic of Ireland, we have no current cases detected in Northern Ireland, we want to keep it that way.

“However, we do know that the virus does mutate and we’re seeing that now and that’s why we have to take action when we see that happening.”

Mrs. Foster also said the R number for new cases in Northern Ireland had dropped from 1.8 around 10 days ago to between 1.1 and 1.2 on Monday.

However, she warned that the pressure on hospitals would continue to mount in the days and weeks ahead.

“We will have this pressure on the system I think now for a couple of weeks and we have to ready ourselves for that,” said the DUP leader.

Asked whether the executive could introduce even tighter restrictions, Mrs Foster suggested further curfews may be considered.

“There’s very few options left,” she said.

Mrs Foster added: “There’s very limited ways that we can do anything further, apart from looking maybe again at curfews and doing something along those lines.”

The First Minister said the executive would receive briefings from Stormont’s health experts at scheduled meetings on Tuesday and Thursday.

DUP MLA and Minister for the Economy, Diane Dodss, has said the time has come for the Northern Ireland Executive to use the British army in its response to Covid-19.

Writing on her Facebook page on Monday afternoon Mrs. Dodds said the need for British army to help with Northern Ireland’s response to Covid-19 had “never been stronger”.

“It has been clear for some time that the army’s skills and logistical expertise could assist in the fight of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland,” wrote Mrs. Dodds.

“Now that our hospitals are becoming increasingly overwhelmed and at risk of being unable to fully enact their surge plans, it is clear that the case for enlisting this help has never been stronger,” she added.

16 deaths and 759 new infections recorded in last 24 hours

An additional 16 people have died from Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.

Another 759 tested positive, the Department of Health said.

The number of confirmed cases in Northern Ireland is doubling at a slower rate (43 days) over the last seven days compared with the doubling rate in the seven days before that, official analysis said.

It follows the imposition of tough lockdown measures after Christmas.

NI experiencing its pandemic ‘worst case scenario’ – O’Neill

Northern Ireland is currently experiencing its pandemic worst case scenario, the deputy First Minister has warned.

Michelle O’Neill said dire predictions made last March about the potential pressures the region’s health service could face were now coming true.

Ms O’Neill said that while Northern Ireland had now passed the peak of new infections in the current Covid-19 wave, the associated surge in hospital admissions was still to come.

Her stark assessments came after health chiefs warned that the number of Covid-19 patients being treated in hospital could double by the third week in January.

Northern Ireland’s hospital network came under intense pressure at the weekend with two health trusts being forced to issue appeals to off duty staff to report in to work.

The situation was the most extreme in the Southern Trust area, where Covid-19 infection rates are currently highest in Northern Ireland.

Over the weekend, Craigavon Area Hospital and Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry were in danger of being swamped with new cases.

Off duty staff coming in to help treat the influx of patients helped avoid the declaration of a major incident.

Enniskillen’s South West Acute hospital in the Western Trust area also asked off duty staff to report into work in case there was a need to start receiving inpatients from the Southern Trust.

Patient diversions to Enniskillen were ultimately not required.

“I think the developments over the weekend whilst they were predicted are still very stark and very alarming,” said Ms O’Neill.

“We are at the extreme of the pandemic right now, this is the worst situation that we have been in from the very onset.

“I think we’re now witnessing this scenario which was predicted to be the worst case scenario way back in the early part of March last year but now it’s a real lived experience.”

Ms O’Neill told BBC Radio Ulster that she could not rule out a potential extension of the region’s current lockdown which is due to end in the first week of February. She said all options remained on the table.

“All of the predictions indicate that we’ve probably reached the peak in this wave of the number of new cases,” she said.

“But we certainly haven’t reached the peak yet in terms of the pressure on the health service. And the next number of weeks is going to be a huge, huge effort from all those people who work in the health service on the frontline.”

First Minister Arlene Foster said the situation was “very concerning”.

“If you look at the number of positive cases whilst they are still too high they have gone down from the peak of what you will recall was over 2,000 cases and yesterday I think we had 1,112 positive cases,” she told Radio Ulster.

“So while the cases are still high, the assessment is that we are past the peak of cases but of course then there is a lag then in terms of hospital admissions and that is very concerning to see that we are now at 703 Covid inpatients in our hospitals.”

A further 17 Covid-19 linked deaths were confirmed in Northern Ireland on Sunday.

‘Stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives’


NI carers to start working in hospitals because of Covid

Much more virulent Covid-19 variant on the increase in NI

There is evidence the Covid-19 variant wreaking havoc in England is spiking in Northern Ireland.

It comes as Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland, Dr. Michael McBride, warns that the next two weeks could be the worst people in Northern Ireland have seen since the beginning of the pandemic.

Dr. McBride said the number of patients in hospitals in Northern Ireland with Covid-19 is also set to double within the next week.

"A small number of cases of the UK variant have been definitively confirmed in Northern Ireland, however evidence suggests that the variant is circulating in growing numbers. 

“There will  be a more definitive assessment later this month when the confirmed data is available," said a spokesperson for the Department of Health.

Meanwhile, there are concerns that another variant from South Africa could pose a threat to the impact of the vaccine.

The South African variant has been detected in other parts of the United Kingdom but not in Northern Ireland.

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