LIVE UPDATES: Coronavirus NI - Talkback guest booted off the air after huge Covid-19 row with presenter William Crawley - Arlene Foster hits back at Michelle O’Neill after she accused DUP of working against Executive - Stormont to impose 8pm curfew on outdoor gatherings

A huge row over the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic in Northern Ireland broke out live on the BBC Radio Ulster programme Talkback on Friday afternoon.

Friday, 18th December 2020, 4:09 pm

For more information on this story please scroll down.

The row broke out live on radio.

LIVE UPDATES: Coronavirus NI - Status of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland a ‘failure of society’

Last updated: Friday, 18 December, 2020, 15:42

  • Status of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland a ‘failure of society’
  • NI Executive to impose 8pm curfew on outdoor gatherings
  • Lockdown could last longer than six weeks if people do not follow restrictions
  • R-number currently at 1.2

Huge row breaks out on BBC Talkback as William Crawley boots guest Jeff Peel of the air after sharing ‘misinformation’ about Covid-19

A huge row over the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic in Northern Ireland broke out live on the BBC Radio Ulster programme Talkback on Friday afternoon.

Broadcaster, William Crawley, who hosts Talkback, accused technology consultant, Jeff Peel, who had been invited on to the programme, of spreading misinformation when he claimed Northern Ireland was “close to achieving herd immunity” in the spring of 2020. 

“We achieved probably what was close to herd immunity, [in the spring of 2020],” said Mr. Peel.     

William Crawley immediately interrupted Mr. Peel saying: “We never got near herd immunity in the spring, Jeff.” 

To which Mr. Peel responded saying: “You have no idea William whether we had or not because frankly the BBC prefers to interview only chief scientific officers [sic] and give them 20 minutes reverence at the start of the programmes and we get a tuppence worth of comment after all of that.” 

Show host, William Crawley, asked Mr. Peel to clarify which group of people he was referring to when he said “we”. 

“The public, the public,” responded Mr. Peel. 

It was after this exchange that a row broke out with Mr. Peel shouting at Mr. Crawley telling him to “let me speak”.   

“You can speak but is my job to challenge misinformation,” said Mr. Crawley. 

"You do this all of the time, William, you talk over the people who you’ve asked on to the programme 

“The Chief Scientific Officer [sic] chooses to convey the science that suits him,” said Mr. Peel.  

Mr. Peel went on to critiscise the Department of Health, the Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive for what he described as “the single greatest public disgrace of my lifetime.”

William Crawley attempted to take control of the conversation when he told Mr. Peel a lot of what he said was true and asked him what he thinks should be done if not a lockdown.

"There is no evidence whatsoever that we [our hospitals] are overwhelmed.

“In terms of April, we had 673 excess deaths - that is 673 more deaths in that month than we saw in the last five years - in the most recent months we have not exceeded more than 200 excess deaths - in other words, we are now seeing a third of the excess deaths we had in April and we weren’t overwhelmed in April.”

Mr. Peel went on to claim that the reason hospitals in Northern Ireland were overwhelmed was because they Department of Health “had a year to increase the number of beds but didn’t” and also alleged health care staff were "being sent home on the back of a duff PCR test (Polymerase chain reaction).

Mr. Crawley invited Mr. Peel to put forward his strategy for managing Covid-19.

“There is no evidence whatsoever that asymptomatic transmission is not an issue and I would encourage the entire Northern Ireland public not to have a test."

Host William Crawley responded saying: “You are not a doctor - that’s completely false.”

Mr. Peel replied saying he knew a doctor who he met for lunch last week and implied that the doctor told him there was no evidence of asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19.

Prof of Social Policy, at Ulster University, Deirdre Heenan who appeared on the programme as a guest at the same time described Mr. Peel’s comments as “complete nonsense”.

Mr. Peel then started talking over Mr Crawley and raised his voice.

It was here that Mr. Crawley asked the team producing his programme “take him out please, this is getting ridiculous.”

Mr. Peel did return briefly but Mr. Crawley said he was “uncomfortable” with what Mr. Peel was saying and took him off the air.

Listen to the entire exchange here - https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000q8lk

Arlene Foster responds to accusation made by Michelle O’Neill that DUP has worked against Executive

First Minister, Arlene Foster.

First Minister Arlene Foster has hit back at comments made by deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, who accused the DUP of working against the Executive and the public health team’s response to Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.

Mrs. Foster hit back at the Sinn Fein vice-president when she was asked a question during a media briefing following a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council on Friday.

First Minister Foster implied the actions of the deputy First Minister and other Sinn Fein officials at the funeral of veteran republican Bobby Storey in Belfast on June 30 damaged the Northern Ireland Executive’s ability to speak with authority concerning Covid-19 restrictions.

"Before the end of June, compliance in Northern Ireland was very good and infact we were the envy of our colleagues in the United Kingdom.

"But at the end of June one party, Sinn Fein, decided while they made the laws they were also above the laws.

"And now we find ourselves in the situation where messaging is very difficult, we have seen a break down in compliance and I very much regret that this is the case."

‘I have never deviated from the public health advice’ - Michelle O’Neill clarifies comment made on RTE radio programme

Deputy First Minister, Arlene Foster.

Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, has clarified a comment she made on RTE radio programme Morning Ireland on Friday morning.

Ms. O’Neill was answering questions on Northern Ireland’s response to Covid-19 when accused the DUP of working against the Executive and the public health team.

“I have never deviated from the public health advice, in a five-party coalition, the DUP has worked against the entire public health team and the Executive because there's a collective will in the other parties to do more at different times throughout the pandemic,” she said.

Ms. O’Neill was asked about the comment during a press briefing following a virtual meeting of the North South Ministerial Council Meeting on Friday afternoon.

“In terms of following the public health, I said I had never deviated from the advice given to us by the Chief Medical Officer and public health team in relation to proposals they have made about how we respond to Covid,” said Ms. O’Neill.

Ms. O’Neill and several high profile publicly elected Sinn Fein politicians caused outrage at the end of June when they attended the funeral of veteran republican, Bobby Storey, in Belfast.

A police investigation into potential breaches of the coronavirus regulations at the funeral has now ended.

The Public Prosecution Service will now decide whether to proceed with any prosecutions. 

Arlene Foster blames ‘society as a whole’ for failing in battle against Covid-19

First Minister, Arlene Foster.

First Minister, Arlene Foster, has said the concerning condition of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland reflects a “failure of society as a whole”.

Mrs. Foster made the remark at a press briefing following a virtual meeting of the North South Ministerial Council on Friday.

“We do find ourselves in a bad place - this is a failure of society as a whole,” said First Minister Officer.

Six week lockdown ‘absolutely necessary’ says Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride.

Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said the public should be “in no doubt” that the six-week lockdown is “absolutely necessary if we are to get transmission of this virus under control”.

“Because of the winter months, it is the best time for this virus in terms of transmission and it is the worst time in terms of impact on our health service,” he told the BBC.

“Whether it is looking at hospitality, whether it is looking at non-essential retail or whether it is looking at contribution from schools, nothing should be on or off the table.

“Those are big decisions and it is right that ministers and respective departments are given the space to actually consider those issues, that’s how democracy works, I provide advice, Ian provides advice and ministers make decisions.”

Professor Ian Young said a “wide range of options” regarding schools has been provided to the Stormont Executive.

“Schools don’t have to be open or closed, there are lots of in-between things, staggered opening, I think, would be clearly included as one of those possibilities,” he said.

Dr McBride added: “If we look back to March/April, I think that’s what we need to get as close to as possible, that’s where I want everyone out there to think about, how we all behaved and how we all interacted during the first lockdown because that is how serious this is now.

“We’re heading into this next wave from a very, very high baseline, this is a wave on a wave and the risk is we swamp our health service.”

He said during the first lockdown the R number was pushed down from 2.8 down to 0.7.

The R rate in Northern Ireland is currently estimated at between around 1.1 and 1.2.

NI Executive to impose 8pm curfew on outdoor gatherings

The Northern Ireland Executive has for the first time since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic issued guidance banning outdoor gatherings between the hours of 8.00pm and 6.00am from December 26, 2020 to January 2, 2021.

The measure is but one of the restrictions included in a six week lockdown signed off by the Northern Ireland Executive on Thursday evening.

The Chief Scientific Officer for Northern Ireland Dr. Michael McBride said the curfew would not be part of any new legislation.

Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Ian Young, told The Stephen Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster that if the Executive decided against imposing an intervention as many as 5,000 people would require hospital care before the end of January.

“What we can say with more accuracy is the number of patients who would require hospital admission, at the moment that is between 400-500, by the end of January, with no action, it would have been around 3,000-4,000,” he said.

“That would have been the number of patients who would have required a bed in hospital towards the end of January if no action were taken.

“In terms of the total number of general and acute beds, the type of beds that would have been required in hospital, the number of patients needing beds would have exceeded the total number of beds that were available," added Professor Young.

Some of the measures included in the lockdown include:

- Closure of hospitality and non-essential retail with a stricter demarcation between essential and non-essential retail than that deployed during the recent circuit breaker.

- Click and collect retail will not be permitted, and home-ware will not be categorised as essential retail. 

- Off sales (including from bars) will be permitted from 08:00 on Monday to Saturday, and from 10:00 on Sunday, until 20:00 on any day. 

- Hospitality businesses will only be allowed to offer takeaway and delivery food.

- Closure of close contact businesses.

- Places of worship can remain open under strict conditions.

In addition, there will be a one-week period of additional restrictions from December 26 to January 2. Between 20:00 and 06:00 during this period:

- All businesses which are able to remain open as part of the restrictions must close between these hours.

- No indoor or outdoor gatherings of any kind would be permitted after 20:00 and before 06:00, including at sporting venues.

- Outdoor exercise would be permitted only with members of your own household.

- No household mixing would be permitted in private gardens or indoors in any setting between these times, except for emergencies or the provision of health or care services or where households have chosen to form a Christmas bubble for a period of time between 23 to 27 December with provision for travel a day either side when absolutely necessary.

- All businesses which are able to remain open as part of the restrictions must close between these hours.no indoor or outdoor gatherings of any kind would be permitted after 20:00 and before 06:00, including at sporting venues 

- Outdoor exercise would be permitted only with members of your own household 

- No household mixing would be permitted in private gardens or indoors in any setting between these times, except for emergencies or the provision of health or care services or where households have chosen to form a Christmas bubble for a period of time between 23 to 27 December with provision for travel a day either side when absolutely necessary.

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