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Belfast's Nightingale Hospital to be stood down as coronavirus crisis starting to ease

Northern Ireland's Nightingale Hospital is being temporarily stood down as the coronavius crisis in the region eases.

The 230-bed unit facility at the City Hospital's tower block has treated 30 Covid-19 patients in intensive care beds at the height of the first wave of virus infection, Health Minister Robin Swann has said.

Mr Swann announced the move at the Executive's daily media briefing yesterday afternoon.

It followed confirmation of two further deaths from coronavirus in Northern Ireland, bringing the total to 449.

Across the UK, the death of a further 494 people brought the total to 33,186.

In the Republic, 10 more people have died, bringing the death toll to 1,497.

In April, the Department of Health announced it would be designating BCH's tower block as Northern Ireland's first Nightingale Hospital.

Medics from around Northern Ireland were brought in to staff it.

Mr Swann said the department had made the decision to reduce the escalation level for critical care to low surge.

He stressed hospital beds would still be available for those who need them and Nightingale could be restarted if needed.

Mr Swann said: "It was one of the key strategic tools for tackling Covid-19.

"We are not doing away with it. It will be there if we have need for it. It is a testimony to the work that they did that we are able to bring it down," he added.

Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride, who also addressed the briefing, said the standing down of the hospital was "significant" .

"It underlines the importance of social distancing measures that have been in place for many weeks now.

"There were widespread fears not that long ago that our health service as elsewhere would be totally overwhelmed by Covid-19.

"The people of Northern Ireland and our great health and social care staff have fought back hard against that threat and continue to do so in a range of settings. The threat of our health service being overwhelmed was real, make no mistake about that."

Dr McBride said reducing the health service's escalation level would ensure it is able to respond and redeploy to non-Covid-19 cases and that doctors would be able to deal with urgent surgeries and treatments. He added: "We have to undertake that gradually and cautiously."

The two men faced questions the day after Stormont published its five-step road map out of lockdown, which has faced criticism from the business community that it lacks detail and dates.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill highlighted their determination to be led by the science, not the calendar, as they published the blueprint.

Mr Swann said ministers had decided not to set dates for easing the lockdown on social movement because his department and experts had pressed for it.

He called it "a bold decision" from the Executive, which was intended to guard against any complacency from the public.

Mr McBride said there was no point in offering the public "false hope" in providing dates for the easing of restrictions.

"The situation is extremely fragile, yes we must work for the future but always be mindful of exactly where we are and where we have been," he said.

Northern Ireland's rate of infection - the 'R' number - stands at 0.79, meaning less than one person is catching it for every confirmed case.

Dr McBride said it was because of the steps taken to limit contact that the virus's spread had been reduced. He warned: "This virus has not gone away. The peak we have seen is a peak we have created. That is why it is crucially important to keep that R number below one."

Belfast Telegraph