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Belfast's Nightingale hospital to reopen as 'urgent action needed'

Health Minister Robin Swann has announced that the Nightingale facility at Belfast City Hospital will become the Covid regional centre for Northern Ireland.

This came as the Executive announced a raft of tighter virus restrictions nationwide as positive cases reached alarming levels.

Speaking at Wednesday afternoon’s Covid-19 briefing alongside Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride and Chief Scientific Officer Professor Ian Young, Mr Swann also said that those who continue to ignore the regulations would “better just staying in the house”.

Earlier today, the Department of Health announced that a further four people have died after testing positive for Covid-19 and a record 1,217 cases were reported in the last 24 hours.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

Mr Swann stated that the decision to make the Nightingale facility a regional Covid centre was not something he wanted to do and that he tried to “hold off for as long as possible”.

“However, we are now in a place of all Trusts reporting rapidly escalating pressures,” he added.

“The virus is spreading exponentially and urgent action was needed.”

Commenting on the new raft of restrictions that will come into effect from Friday for a four week period, the Health Minister said the Executive made their decisions with a “very heavy heart”.

“However, the sustained acceleration of cases in Northern Ireland has left us with no alternative,” he continued.

“What we have now is a window of opportunity. A chance to reset. A chance for some breathing space for our health service and its staff.

“But this will only work if we all buy into it as a community. If there is widespread compliance with the restrictions and if people cut down their contacts and give each other space, we can get through these next four weeks together if we all take care of each other.”

Mr Swann also responded to a tweet by DUP MP Sammy Wilson after he wrote that the Health Minister cannot be allowed to “turn the National Health Service into the National Covid Service”.

The UUP MLA responded to the “loud voices” by saying, “they’re missing the point”.

“Firstly, we cant and wont ever turn away Covid patients who need care, and who would even suggest such a thing?” added Mr Swann.

“Secondly, the more the virus gets a grip on our population, the harder it is to maintain our health service.

“When we increase our ICU capacity to treat more critically ill Covid patients we have to redeploy clinical staff such as our nurses and our anaesthetists from elsewhere and that means cancelling operations and downturning other activities.

“I don’t want that to happen and that is why every possible avenue is being explored to allow us to deliver as much activity as is possible.”

Meanwhile, Professor Young described the number of positive cases in the first wave of the virus as a “small bump” when compared to today’s figures.

He added that the R number, which details the level of infection rate, was currently settled between 1.5 and 1.6.

“While R is at that level, the number of cases, hospital admissions, ICU occupancy and deaths will all increase progressively,” stated Professor Young.

“It’s critical, in order to bring the epidemic under control, that interventions are made which will bring R down to less than one.

“It’s only when that is achieved that the number of cases will begin to fall.”


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