No new rules thanks to high vaccine rates, says Paul Givan

Northern Ireland’s First Minister has confirmed that no further restrictions have been agreed amid the latest Covid-19 surge.

Christmas shoppers wearing face masks leave Primark in Belfast city centre.
Christmas shoppers wearing face masks leave Primark in Belfast city centre.

Paul Givan also said that there are no plans to close schools.

The Executive met earlier as the region prepares for the expected peak of the Omicron surge in the coming weeks.

Mr Givan told reporters at Stormont that ministers received an update from health officials during the virtual meeting on Thursday.

“Yes there are pressures within our health service, we are seeing a slight rise in terms of general admissions for people with Covid, but we are seeing a stable situation within our critical care … we are not seeing increases in this wave as we did have in previous waves, and that’s as a result of the vaccination programme,” he told reporters at Stormont.

“Because people have went out, they’ve got their jab, they’re following the public health advice, the Executive hasn’t had to take those kind of measures that were necessary over a year ago and we’re in a much better place now.”

Reacting to concerns around the opening of schools amid the high Covid case numbers, Mr Givan said there are no plans to close schools.

“I know in my engagement with school leaders and parents they very much want children to be in school and that’s why the Education Minister has been doing work in preparation for the new term,” he said.

“We’ve had the delivery of CO2 monitors across our school estate, we’ve had further advice provided from the Permanent Secretary to leaders within our school system, and I want to pay tribute to our principals and teachers who are there and delivering an education because they want to do it in the classroom.

“I recognise that on a school-by-school basis they will face challenges whether that’s through staff absences or through students who become unwell, and that will need to be managed within that school population.

“In terms of a universal approach, schools will not be closed. There isn’t going to be a proposal put forward for that but we recognise that we need to manage pressures that come across our schools at an individual basis.”

The First Minister described a “challenging period” ahead, saying: “We are seeing increased pressures on our workforce so we are enhancing our civil contingency measures, we’re getting greater engagement across the relevant agencies that are involved, whether that’s the police, local government, central government, those responsible for managing staff absences, and where the critical support would be needed if there are further pressures in that area, then that work is being enhanced across the Executive.”

He added: “We’ll continue to keep this under review and we will meet again next week,” he added.