Restrictions could be eased and self-isolation period cut

The Northern Ireland Executive could relax some of the remaining coronavirus restrictions next week, First Minister Paul Givan has suggested.

Thursday, 13th January 2022, 8:43 pm
Signage in a bistro window in Belfast asking customers to practice social distancing and to wait to be seated.

He also gave his backing to a possible move from a minimum period of self-isolation for those with the virus from seven to five days, but stressed that the decision rests with the health minister.

“I raised this issue today in terms of what our policy would be and that ultimately it is a decision that sits exclusively with Robin Swann,” the DUP MLA said.

“But, given the information that we have around the reduced severity of this omicron variant – we can see in terms of the pressures on our health service not manifesting the way we feared that it could – then we’re going to have to continue to look at this self-isolation policy.”

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He was commenting after ministers received an update on coronavirus data from health officials at yesterday’s meeting of the Executive.

“It was a very encouraging report,” the first minister told reporters at Stormont.

“We believe that we’re at the peak now in terms of the transmission rates within the community and we’re looking at the admission rates within our hospitals and they are starting to decline already and so the modelling that we’re following now is a very optimistic scenario.”

He continued: “We don’t believe there will be a breach of over 500 people being admitted into our hospitals. That is a much better picture than what it had been anticipated just before decisions were taken on December 23.

“That gives the Executive now more headroom to develop how we can reduce measures in the coming weeks, and so work will now take place for the Executive to consider next week what measures we could look at trying to remove that had been brought in, to get us back to at least the pre-December 23 position as soon as possible within the prevailing environment that we’re operating in.”

A Sinn Fein minister was more cautious following the meeting, however.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said any easing of Covid restrictions could lead to a spike in cases of the virus.

“We are unfortunately still seeing members of the public passing away as a result of the virus and our hospitals under pressure,” she said.

“Whilst there is no need at this moment to introduce any further restrictions, we will be keeping those restrictions under review and indeed the Executive will be meeting again next week in terms of assessing where we are and we will continue to keep it under close observation in the time ahead.”

She added: “I think at the moment the pandemic is still very much here. We are in the midst of the peak and we want to see that drive down.”