The Health Minister says the situation in our hospitals is too precious to ease restrictions “too early or too widely”.
Robin Swann held a media briefing on Wednesday evening alongside the Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride and Chief Scientific Advisor Professor Ian Young.
Their appearance at Stormont came as the Minister’s Department recorded a further 19 deaths linked to coronavirus earlier that day.
Speaking at the briefing, Robin Swann said: “Sadly we have today reporter another 19 Covid related deaths in Northern Ireland. Again my deepest sympathies go to the family and friends of those who have passed away.
“As we battle through the stage of this pandemic, let us never forget the toll that this has already taken. Let us keep at the forefront of our minds all those who have lost, all those who have been bereaved and those whose health has been badly affected by this virus.
“Let us never forget the immense sacrifice of our health and social care workers and the burden that they have carried for us and continue to carry.
“Because let anyone underestimate the sheer challenge they face working across the system, but especially on our Covid wards, under the strain of full PPE, knowing that for many patients they may well be the last face they see. Working well beyond their hours to support colleagues and to stay with patients in their final hours.
Minister slams claims Covid threat is not real
“Let’s not be distracted by the very small but very vocal minority who claim that the Covid threat is an exaggeration. They have been discredited. The facts are clear because their constant undermining is nothing but an insult to health and care workers.
“Let me say today that to all our staff, we need to look after them, not just now but for the years to come. We as a society will have to look after our health service better than we have done in previous years. The health service is up against it now and the pressures are without parallel.”
Covid inpatients up 277 since last week
Robin Swann said as of Wednesday morning, there were 869 Covid confirmed inpatients – that is 277 more than this time last week.
“That rate of growth is wholly unsustainable,” he said.
“We have already heard from our Trusts, the devastating impact this is having on our services. Last week I announced a regional approach to the prioritisation of surgeries. That means those who need an operation the most will get it wherever there is capacity. Right now I would rather ask patients to travel further for treatments than not get them at all.
“In the meantime the best way to protect the NHS is to stay at home and use the precious resources responsibly.”
UK has moved into Alert Level 5
The four UK Chief Medical Officers recommended that we now move into Covid-19 Alert Level 5. The Health Minister said this announcement brings an impact on the implementation of visiting guidance in all care settings across Northern Ireland.
Revised visiting guidance for Northern Ireland
Minister Swann announced yesterday with regret that revised visiting guidance will soon be published.
Visiting will be permitted in hospices and care homes however visits to general medical wards will no longer be permitted.
These changes will take effect from this Friday, January 15.
More details are expected from the Department soon.
Over 100,000 vaccinated so far
“As we face into this vicious storm let us remember there is hope,” Minister Swann said.
“While there is a long way to go, it has made a very strong start.
“Today Northern Ireland has pushed past the 100,000 mark.”
- 109,259 doses administered;
- 91,419 people having received their first dose;
- 458 out of 483 of our care homes have received their first dose and 67% their second.
Rapid test for Covid-19
A new rapid test is rolling out to all Trust Emergency Departments across Northern Ireland in the coming week.
Described as an important development, the Lumira DX is a rapid nasal swab test that delivers results in 12 minutes.
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “The Lumira DX test is a significant development in our testing capability for Covid-19. This rapid test will enable emergency departments (EDs) to very quickly identify patients who do not have Covid-19, enabling faster decision-making in relation to patients’ care and treatment. A negative result will also enable ED staff to make faster decisions regarding the appropriate placement of patients in hospital wards.
“The pressures on our hospital system have been well publicised. One of the areas currently experiencing significant pressure are our EDs, where patients with COVID-19 and those with other medical conditions both arrive seeking help. Being able to identify more quickly that a patient does not have the SARS-CoV-2 virus will benefit staff in the ED and our system as a whole.”
Expert teams within the Belfast Trust have been working to test and trial this rapid testing technology, as one of only five early adopter sites across the UK.
The Lumira DX testing technology has been validated locally by scientists in the Regional Virology Laboratory in Belfast Trust working collaboratively with staff in the RVH Emergency Department, supported by the Trust’s Point-of-Care Team.
The Minister added: “Lumira DX testing kits have now been delivered to all Trusts who are finalising arrangements for their use and I look forward to seeing this testing technology used to support care of ED patients in the coming week or so. I commend everyone who contributed to the Lumira DX trial locally. It has been a huge achievement to get this new testing technology to this point.”
R number is falling with restrictions
Lockdown measures across Northern Ireland are producing results, according to new data.
The R number for new cases is coming down, the Health Minister revealed yesterday but said that the challenge is now to “keep it there”.
Lockdown cannot be lifted too early
The current lockdown is being kept under review by the Executive and the Health Minister says challenging decisions may have to be made by early February.
He said: “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 but I want to thank the public across Northern Ireland. The vast majority are doing the right thing. You are abiding by restrictions and doing your very best.
“We are all tired but I can assure you we will get there if we stick together and stick to the right path.”