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Coronavirus death toll may be similar to Northern Ireland Troubles, says Foster


First Minister Arlene Foster

First Minister Arlene Foster

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Professor Ian Young

Professor Ian Young

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill at Stormont yesterday

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill at Stormont yesterday

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

First Minister Arlene Foster

First Minister Arlene Foster says the current modelling which suggests 3,000 deaths due to coronavirus in Northern Ireland over a 20-week period is a "sobering statistic".

Mrs Foster told the daily briefing by the Stormont Executive that this death toll "would be about 500 people short of the lives lost during the Troubles".

She was speaking after the Health Minister Robin Swann earlier set out the key findings of the expert Northern Ireland modelling study which will be used in hospital planning for the forthcoming Covid-19 surge.

Referring to the figures, the DUP leader said: "The loss of each of those lives is a huge blow, not only to their families, but of course to the communities from which they come from.

"In a small tight-knit society like ours we are all likely to know someone who will be impacted and it will be a cruel blow. We will need to do everything we can to comfort and support their relatives and indeed each other in the difficult weeks and months ahead," she added.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said there was no doubt that this modelling work will alarm and concern people.

"It's a scary prospect for all of us but particularly for those older people and those who are vulnerable," she added.

"It only serves to reinforce how crucially important it is that people keep doing the things that are asked of them at this time in order to allow us to be able to save lives.

"The actions of each and every one of us are crucial in reducing the death toll.

"These are frightening times and I think everyone shares that fear about what is upon us. No one feels that more acutely than our healthcare workers.

"They are worried too about the risk to themselves and to their families and patients.

"They are terrified of not being able to continue in their jobs.

"I acknowledge that fear and we have to build confidence right across the health service, among our staff and make sure they are protected and supported in the lifesaving work that they are doing.

The Sinn Fein deputy leader again stressed that healthcare workers are "crying out" for personal protective equipment (PPE) and more testing, a message she said was relayed to her earlier during discussions with the Royal College of Nursing.

She said: "They are concerned that the NHS guidance on the use of PPE during this pandemic doesn't align with the World Health Organisation's advice.

"We have to listen to our healthcare workers on the frontline who are telling us all of this."

Professor Ian Young, chief scientific advisor at the Department of Health, also attended yesterday's briefing, and said that the predictions of 3,000 deaths would be "an extraordinary event to occur in the life of Northern Ireland and really terrible for everyone who might be impacted". He added: "I hope that if people stick to the social distancing measures that we will do significantly better than that."

Professor Young also warned that recurrence of coronavirus is "almost inevitable" once restrictions end, until enough people build up immunity through vaccination or surviving infection.

"Once you relax restrictions it is almost inevitable that there will be a recurrence of the virus and that will occur until a substantial proportion of the population have immunity," he said.

Professor Young added that no decisions had been made about when social distancing recommendations would be relaxed.

"We will be looking carefully at the likely impact of relaxing those recommendations, either singly or as a group," he said.

Belfast Telegraph