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Coronavirus: Chief medical officer warns against trivialising outbreak as 40,000 to be told to shield themselves

Justice minister 'appalled' people treating it like 'extended holiday'

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Dr Michael McBride (centre) addresses the media yesterday

Dr Michael McBride (centre) addresses the media yesterday

Dr Michael McBride (centre) addresses the media yesterday

Northern Ireland's chief medical officer has warned against people trivialising the coronavirus outbreak and urged them to take the matter seriously.

Dr Michael McBride made the warning as he confirmed 40,000 people are to receive letters urging them to shield themselves from the virus and stay at home.

They include people that have had organ transplants, suffered specific cancers, coping with respiratory conditions, have had rare diseases, on immunosuppression medicines or are pregnant. They will need to shield themselves from the virus for 12 weeks.

"There is no point looking back in the next two weeks and saying 'I wish we had done more'," he told the BBC.

"So we need to take steps to protect our health service so our brothers, sisters and grandparents get the help they need.

"This is a time to look after and look out for each other. Now is the time to protect ourselves, to protect each other and to protect our health service and support each other."

He said those shielding themselves were isolating themselves from the virus not society and stressed the importance of people maintaining communication.

He added: "People need to follow the simple advice that's out there about staying at home, avoiding all unnecessary travel, work from home if you can, and follow the advice on social distancing.

"The steps we take over the next two weeks will make the difference as to whether or not our health service is able to provide the very best care to those who need it and will also protect our hardworking and dedicated frontline health and social care staff."

This is a time to look after and look out for each other Dr Michael McBride

He also said testing for the virus had increased including for healthcare workers. He said the priority was to test those that were severely ill and then those in potential cluster outbreaks.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Noami Long said she was appalled to see so many disregard government advice, saying people appeared to be treating the situation like an "extended holiday".

She said Northern Ireland will get tougher measures from Westminster to enforce critical health advice to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to rush through sweeping new laws in a bid to tackle the outbreak, with the prospect the UK could be put on lockdown within days. Some have argued any measures should be strictly time limited and not impose on civil liberties after the outbreak.

"It is a critical issue we all work together," Ms Long told BBC Good Morning Ulster.

She said that while additional powers may be required, they would likely put further strain on the police force which was itself already impacted by the outbreak.

"What we need is cooperation from the public," she continued.

"We need people to take this seriously.

"I recognise there are people who are confused about what decisions need to be made with respect to their work and employment and other things and we are working hard to put that in place.

"But we need people in the interim to apply common sense and maintain social distancing."

Ms Long said enforcing common sense to the public was "asking a lot" of the police and the health service.

"If people are not going to use what opportunity there is responsibly then clearly we are going to have to take more extreme measures for what is required.

"But we also need to be realistic, we will not be doing this for a week or two weeks, this could be the new normal and we can't rely on the police. The public have to help."

Belfast Telegraph