Leading GP warns ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown may be ‘inevitable’ for Northern Ireland
A leading Northern Ireland GP says he believes a Covid lockdown will be “inevitable” this winter, after the UK Health Secretary refused to rule out the measure.
Dr Alan Stout, Chair of the Northern Ireland Local Medical Committees, was speaking after the UK Government revealed it will, if necessary, revert to vaccine passports, mandatory face masks and advice to work from home if infection rates threaten to overwhelm the NHS this winter.
Last week the government advisory group SAGE suggested a mid-term ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown might be needed. UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said this week that he did not think it would be needed but added that it would be “irresponsible” to rule it out.
According to the British Medical Journal, Covid death rates in NI two weeks ago were more than twice as high as GB and 10 times as high as in the Republic.
Dr Alan Stout said today he did not want to see a lockdown, but added: “I think the need for a lockdown is inevitable”
“What form that takes - whether as a very short circuit breaker to drive infection rates down and try and control it and come out of that with other measures and really reinforcing the simple measures is the most likely scenario that I would anticipate at the moment,” he told the Nolan Show. NI infection rates may be higher as younger people have been slower to get jabbed, he added.
First Minister Paul Givan today emphasised the need for personal responsibility this winter but added that plans were in place in NI to cope with any winter surge.
“There are plans already in place, that is something we talked about at our last Executive meeting, so there are surge plans,” he told the BBC.
“I was speaking with the chief medical officer, Sir Michael McBride, about this and the health services has already brought in additional assistance but there are plans in place within the health service to meet the winter demands.”
He added that there has been a sustained period of pressure on NI’s health service over the past six/seven weeks but said it “hasn’t been the same spike as there was in previous waves”.
His comments come after NI’s deputy chief medical officer, Dr Naresh Chada, said that compared with this time last year, there are very high levels of Covid-19 transmission as people are mixing more following the lifting of lockdown restrictions. He urged people to follow public health advice and to get vaccinated.
“I think we’re heading into a very challenging winter, compared to last summer, we are going into the autumn with very, very high levels of Covid infection in our community,” he said.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said today that it “fully recognises the very difficult winter ahead”.
She addded: “This is in the context of severe pressures already impacting on the HSC system. To prepare for the upcoming challenging period the Department has commissioned integrated winter & surge Delivery Plans from the Trusts. This will involve activity to manage both COVID-19 and other unscheduled pressures, whilst at the same time maximising elective care through initiatives such as green pathways and sites.
“The Trust plans will be underpinned by a regional approach to the management of critical and respiratory care, which served us well during the previous winter. We will also continue to prioritise elective care on a regional basis. The Department has also commissioned the HSCB to work with general practice and the out of hours providers to develop robust winter and surge plans for the upcoming challenging period. The Department will continue to do all it can to support the HSCB, HSC Trusts and Primary Care through this most difficult time.”
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