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Complacency about coronavirus will kill, warns health minister, as death toll estimates for Northern Ireland drop significantly

The Covid-19 death toll in Northern Ireland is on course to be greatly reduced but "complacency will kill", the Health Minister has said.

Robin Swann said yesterday that new modelling figures put the reasonable worst case scenario at 1,500 deaths, just a tenth of the initial estimate of 15,000.

It came as the death toll in Northern Ireland passed 200 cases.

Thirteen deaths were confirmed yesterday, bringing the total to 207.

In the Irish Republic there were a further 77 deaths - its highest daily toll of deaths notified during the outbreak - bringing the total to 687.

A further 449 deaths were also reported in the UK, making a total of 16,509 deaths.

At the daily executive briefing, Mr Swann said that the health service was coping and urged those with other medical problems not to stay away from emergency departments.

The chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride also detailed how plans to expand testing would be a vital source of intelligence in slowing the spread of the virus.

Urging the public not to drop their guard, Mr Swann said: "Thinking this is over or that the risk is diminishing will risk lives. So don't be that person, don't take that chance."

He said the recent modelling advice, which calculated around 1,500 deaths in the first 20 weeks, covered both deaths in the hospital and the community.

"But of course, this is not a prediction or a forecast. Modelling doesn't work like that but it provides a clear indication that social distancing is working," he said.

Mr Swann also urged those needing medical help for other conditions not to stay away.

"If you or your child need emergency care then our hospitals are there for you," he said.

"When I took this job on I never imagined that within a few months I'd be worrying publicly about how quiet our emergency departments are, but I am.

"Those emergency departments are open and ready to provide care for those who need it. It's really important that everyone understands that."

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride agreed that avoiding treatment for other issues was not helpful. "Staying at home when you need to access care may result in a worse outcome for you or your child or may result in a greater pressure and burden being placed on our health service," he said,

This week a new form of testing will be introduced, GP sentinel surveillance, that samples individuals who present with respiratory symptoms.

"That's crucially important intelligence advising us how the virus is spreading," said Dr McBride. He added that testing had already been taking place in care homes for weeks.

"It is vitally important that we build on the established arrangement that the Public Health Agency has working with the nursing and residential care sector to make sure we manage the outbreak of any infectious disease including Covid-19."

From April 28, he said there would be testing for those presenting in emergency departments with respiratory symptoms suggestive of Covid-19.

As the need for testing in hospitals and for healthcare workers reduces, Dr McBride said the current testing capacity could also be redeployed to track progress of the coronavirus spread in the wider community.

"Please keep doing what you're doing. The actions that you've been taking over the last number of weeks is making a real difference. Any relaxation in our social distancing measures at this time or any inability of the public to stick with those, we will rapidly see a re-emergence of this virus and again we will see our health service come under very significant pressure."

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