Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer has offered hope to the public after warning Covid-19 restrictions are likely to remain in place in 2022.
Dr Michael McBride appeared at a briefing on Wednesday afternoon where he said he wished to clarify that “some restrictions” will be required next year.
He was responding to criticisms of comments he made earlier this week when he said summer is likely to bring some respite from the current lockdown, but that it is likely restrictions will be “enhanced” again in the autumn and remain until next year.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Robin Swann has warned the public against meeting up over St Patrick’s and Easter as he stressed that the lifting of lockdown will be a slow process.
“We have to crawl before we can walk and walk before we can even think about running,” he said.
Both Dr McBride and Mr Swann acknowledged the fact that life is unlikely to return to normal for some time is a difficult reality for the public to accept.
Mr Swann said: “I want to offer people hope but stress the need for caution.
“Like everyone else, I long for the day when restrictions, any restrictions, do not hang like a dark cloud over all aspects of our daily lives.
“That day is achievable, but we have to tread carefully towards it.
“Vaccination coupled with strict adherence to social distancing and other good public health guidance can help us get there.
“Our vaccination programme is continuing at pace and as of close of play yesterday, 361,430 vaccinations had been administered.
“That’s more than 16,000 people than the day before.”
Mr Swann said vaccination is protecting “more and more people each day” but he said there “are uncertainties and unknowns”.
Mr Swann said it is important to be “frank” about the challenges.
He continued: “As the chief medical officer has rightly made clear, some restrictions may be with us into the long term.
“We may be wearing face coverings in shops and on public transport for a long time to come.
“That type of restriction may well become part of our new normal daily life.
“This is not to say lockdown, or partial lockdown, will roll on indefinitely. It doesn’t have to be that way because to be clear, restrictions and lockdowns are not the same thing.”
Mr Swann said if the figures continue in the current direction, “we can consider a careful, managed easing of some measures, but only when and if the timing is right.”
Both Mr Swann and Dr McBride declined to give a timescale for the lifting of restrictions.