Covid NI: Another 1,931 positive cases and four deaths in 24 hours

Another four people have died after testing positive for Covid-19, the Department of Health have revealed. That is the same number as died yesterday.

Wednesday, 24th November 2021, 2:28 pm

That means a total of 2,581 people have now died in NI with the Virus.

Thirty three people have now died with the virus in the last seven days.

Another 1,931 infections have also been recorded in the last 24 hours.

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Meanwhile, 11,704 positive cases have been recorded in the last seven days.

There are now 386 people being treated for Covid-19 in NI hospitals - 36 of that number are being treated in ICU.

There are now 31 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in NI Care Homes.

And our hospitals care currently sitting at an occupancy of 105%.

A NHS hospital ward
A closed Covid-19 ward
Christmas shoppers wearing face masks in Belfast last year. Photo: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Covid in Northern Ireland

Last updated: Wednesday, 24 November, 2021, 13:44

    Commissioner calls for public inquiry into pandemic in care homes

    By Jonathan McCambridge, PA

    A public inquiry needs to be held into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in care homes in Northern Ireland, the Commissioner for Older People has said.

    Eddie Lynch said it was “time for answers” and urged the Stormont Executive to order the inquiry into why care home residents were “disproportionately affected” by the pandemic.

    Mr Lynch said: “I have spoken to all political parties in recent weeks stating my clear position that a public inquiry into how care homes were managed throughout the Covid-19 pandemic should take place.

    “There has been a huge number of excess deaths in care homes with latest figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency revealing that deaths of care home residents account for 30% of all Covid-related deaths.

    “Covid has impacted us all, but for older people, and particularly care home residents, those impacts have been exceptionally arduous.

    “Over the past year we witnessed the incorrect recording of care home deaths, families having no access to loved ones, personal protective equipment (PPE) supply problems, inappropriate use of do not attempt resuscitation orders, the slow introduction of testing, the transfer of Covid-positive patients into care homes – the list goes on.”

    The commissioner added: “The Prime Minister’s UK-wide public inquiry will consult with devolved governments across the UK, but I urge the NI Executive to conduct an inquiry which specifically looks at the care and management of residents and care homes and not to delay any longer in commencing what is likely to be a long process.

    “Families deserve an answer on why deaths in care homes here were so extensive and why care home residents were disproportionately affected by this pandemic.

    “It’s been almost two years since the first lockdown was announced, now is the time for work to get under way.”

    “A public inquiry will help to ascertain how and why decisions were made, the impact of those decisions and what could and should be done differently in the future.

    “It’s time for answers.”

    A spokesperson for the Executive Office said: “It is important that the response to the Covid-19 pandemic will be reviewed in a local context.

    “The Executive has not yet been consulted on the scope and detailed arrangements for the public inquiry announced by the Westminster Government.

    “Ministers will give full consideration to the draft terms when they are received, which will help to inform the way forward.”

    Health Minister Robin Swann said measures agreed by the Executive were aimed at preventing soaring numbers of Covid cases experienced in other parts of Europe.

    He said: “This is in regards to keeping our society open and safe, but also delivering that message of hope in regards of where we can be.

    “We know what we need to do, we know what has worked in the past, but in comparison to this time last year we have the vaccination and the booster programmes coming forward.”

    Mr Swann added: “We are seeing what is happening in other countries across Europe, and we think, in regards to these early interactions now, that we can prevent those escalations in cases, also in hospitalisations and the additional pressures coming on our health service as well.

    “The time is now to take these actions so that in future we don’t have to take any further action and that is what the Executive has agreed collectively.”

    Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said that measures agreed by the Executive were the best chance of avoiding further restrictions in the weeks ahead.

    Ms O’Neill said: “These are uncertain times, but now is the time for action and if we want to achieve the best possible outcome right now, then now is the time to act.

    “This is our best chance of avoiding further restrictions down the line. That is why we are asking people to comply. We are reinforcing measures around the work from home messaging if you can.”

    She added: “We want to avoid the difficult decisions that we had to take at this time last year. We understand how difficult it is for the wider public so we want to do everything we can in terms of refocusing efforts and refocusing attention to where we are right now.

    “In summary, it is about acting now to keep our families safe, it is about acting now to protect our health service and prevent our hospitals from collapsing.

    “It is about acting now to prevent us having to impose any stringent measures in the weeks ahead. We want to keep society and the economy open and safe.”

    First Minister Paul Givan said the Northern Ireland Executive was “very much united” in asking the public to play its part in trying to curb the spread of Covid-19.

    Speaking to the media following an Executive meeting where reinforced Covid measures were agreed, Mr Givan said they had considered a number of papers from Health Minister Robin Swann.

    He said: “We are all very much united in asking the public to play its part along with us as politicians, that we can take every effort to try and minimise the transmission rate of the coronavirus.

    “So we appeal again to redouble our efforts when it comes to trying to minimise some of those contacts, whenever it comes to having good ventilation, where you are meeting indoors try to meet outdoors more often.

    “And we are emphasising that need to work from home where you can and for employers to support that.

    “We recognise that in some circumstances that isn’t possible and practically people do need to be in their workplace.”

    Mr Givan added: “There is hope that we can come through this period over the next number of weeks by making that collective effort and taking personal responsibility seriously.”

    Ministers ask people to limit their social contacts

    Ministers urged people to limit their social contacts; meet outdoors where possible; make sure indoor meeting places are well ventilated; wear face coverings in crowded or indoor settings; and continue to wash hands or use sanitiser.

    The statement concluded: “We understand how difficult this situation is for everyone and we will be stepping up our public information campaign to encourage everyone to keep following the advice.

    “None of us wanted to be in this position, but this pandemic is unpredictable and it continues to pose a threat.

    “We have an opportunity to make a difference by working together to keep our society open and protect the health service.

    “Let’s do everything we can to ensure we halt the spread of Covid as we approach Christmas.”

    On vaccination, the Executive said: “Please take up the vaccine, including the booster, when it is offered to you. The evidence on the benefits of vaccination is unequivocal. And the statistics are stark.

    “Unvaccinated adults aged under 50 are almost 11 times more likely to need hospitalisation from Covid-19. Unvaccinated individuals aged 50 and over are four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than those who are fully vaccinated.”

    On the work from home message, the administration said: “We are also strengthening the message that people should work from home where possible. More people working from home will help to reduce the risk of transmission both inside and outside the workplace.

    “We recognise that this may present challenges in some work areas and ask employees to work from home where they can, and advise employers to support this where possible.” Face coverings are mandatory on public transport as part of efforts in place to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19.

    Passengers travelling on public transport services in Northern Ireland are required to wear a face covering. Face coverings are also required in public transport stations.

    Nichola Mallon said: “Covid-19 has not gone away and while our public transport operators have many measures in place to ensure our public transport network is safe, we all must remain vigilant and continue to play our part in preventing the spread of Covid-19.

    “This includes adhering to the Face Covering Regulations by wearing a face covering and following the advice of public transport operators. Compliance rates with the mandatory requirements to wear a face covering on public transport have remained high throughout this pandemic but we must redouble our efforts to protect the vulnerable and ourselves and to protect out health service.

    “The evidence provided by health professionals is clear, you can reduce the risk of spreading the virus by wearing a face covering. Exemptions are in place for those who cannot wear a face covering but I urge all those who can, to comply with the requirements. I also urge people to wash and sanitise their hands regularly.

    “All of these measures can make a difference and help us to reduce the transmission rates of Covid-19, protecting our citizens, our businesses and our health service throughout this winter.”

    In a statement, the Executive said action was needed to keep society open and safe.

    “Covid-19 has once again taken a firm grip across our society,” said the statement.

    “Community transmission of the virus is increasing. Hospital admissions are rising and modelling indicates that admissions will increase further in the coming weeks.

    “The clear advice from public health experts is that an intervention is now required.

    “Our people – individuals, families, communities and businesses – have been through so much during this pandemic. Our collective aim is to reduce pressure on our hospitals while allowing our society and the economy to remain open as fully and safely as possible.

    “That means we all need to take action to prevent a worsening of the situation that would potentially require more severe measures.”

    NI Executive agrees to bolster work-from-home guidance

    People will be urged to work from home where possible as part of reinforced Covid measures agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive.

    Current Stormont advice for businesses to prepare for a return to office working is to be changed to encourage employers to support those staff who can work from home to do so.

    Ministers met on Tuesday morning to sign off on a range of recommendations made by Health Minister Robin Swann.

    They had adjourned discussions on the proposals on Monday evening and Mr Swann made some revisions to the plan overnight.

    It is understood an initial proposal that would have seen ministers urge people who worked from home at the outset of the pandemic in March 2020 to do so again has been dropped.

    The PA news agency understands that some ministers had expressed concern that advice could cause confusion as many sectors that were closed in March 2020 are now open and many workers do not have the option of remaining at home.

    Much of the plan agreed by ministers focuses on reinforcing messaging around public health measures, such as face masking wearing, hand hygiene and limiting social contacts.

    With that in mind, it is understood First Minister Paul Givan, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Health Minister Mr Swann will take part in a rare joint press conference at Stormont later on Tuesday afternoon.

    The Executive has also tasked its Covid taskforce to examine issues around enforcement of mask-wearing and also look at the potential of setting up a scores-on-the-doors type system to rate businesses on their compliance with rules and mitigations.

    After the meeting, Mr Givan tweeted: “The Executive has engaged constructively & agreed a number of measures that will step up our collective efforts against the spread of Covid.

    “Whilst there is differences across society on the most effective measures, we can all make a contribution that will help make a difference.”

    On Monday, Mr Swann told the Assembly that some hospitality venues may be asked to close their doors over Christmas if Covid-19 cases continue to increase.

    He stressed that closures were not inevitable.

    A Covid certification system for hospitality businesses is being rolled out next week. Fines for non-compliance will be become enforceable two weeks after that on December 13.

    Under the compulsory certification scheme, people wishing to gain entry to designated venues would need to demonstrate evidence of Covid-19 vaccination, a negative lateral flow test result, or proof of a coronavirus infection within the previous six months.

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