Robin Swann warns of extending lockown restrictions - 19 more deaths - NI to enter ‘Alert Level 5’

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Health minister Robin Swann has warned that Northern Ireland “will have to avoid easing restrictions too early or too widely” and that further challenging decisions may well have to be made as the current lockdown ends.

The Chief Scientific Advisor Ian Young has also warned that Covid deaths in hospital will continue to rise “for some considerable few weeks”.  

Mr Swann said the four UK Chief Medical officers have recommended that all UK regions now move into Alert level 5 - the highest alert level for the pandemic - meaning that health services risk being overwhelmed and extremely strict social distancing measures are needed. This means more restrictions on visiting in all health settings, he said, which will be implemented from Friday.

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The lockdown measures across Northern Ireland are producing results, Mr Swann said in a press conference today.

Health Minister, Robin Swann.Health Minister, Robin Swann.
Health Minister, Robin Swann.

However he also announced a further 19 Covid related deaths today. and that the number of Covid in-patients today stands at 869 which is 277 more than a week ago.

This rate of growth is “wholly unsustainable” he said.

The R number for new cases is coming down to the objective of below ‘1’ but the challenge is to keep it there, he said.

”The lockdown provisions will be kept under review by the Executive and we may well have some further challenging decisions to make by early February,” he said.

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”We will have to avoid easing restrictions too early or too widely. The situation in our hospitals is too precious for that. We are not through the worst of this yet.” 

Chief Scientific Advisor Ian Young said that infection rates are dropping again after a recent peak, due to “Christmas mixing” and that these rates are higher than at any time in the past year, though starting to drop off.

However hospital admissions are still rising day by day due to the time lag of incubation and will not peak until the last two weeks in January - if restrictions are adhered to, he added.

He said that ICU admissions will continue to get worse.

“It is now at the same level it peaked at in wave one and two and still has some way to go,” he said.

Deaths in hospitals are also now peaking he said.

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“Unfortunately it is inevitable that deaths will also continue to rise and remain elevated for some considerable few weeks before we begin to see a fall again,” he added.

More than 100,000 coronavirus vaccinations have been administered in Northern Ireland, Mr Swann said.

The programme is currently restricted only by the availability of vaccine supplies, he said.

By close of play on Tuesday, 109,259 doses had been administered, with 91,419 people having received their first dose.

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“458 out of 483 (95%) of our care homes have received their first dose, and 67% their second,” he said. Almost 20% of NI’s over-80s have received a jab from their GP.

Mr Swann also said a new rapid test for Covid-19 is to be launched in NI which can return results in just 12 minutes.

“The LumiraDX nasal swab will enable health staff to “very quickly identify patients who do not have Covid-19” he said.

Mr Swann said conversations have been ongoing with the Ministry of Defence since the start of the pandemic, primarily regarding logistical advice.

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Prof Young said the average number of new cases of coronavirus per day had risen to more than 2,000 a day.

He said the number of cases remain “at a higher level than at any time in wave one or wave two”.

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