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Coronavirus: Don't cancel outdoor events, says medical chief

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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 advised against further cancellations of mass outdoor events in the battle to contain the spread of coronavirus.

While Dr Michael McBride said he was "in no way being critical" of organisers over the cancellation of events including St Patrick's Day parades, he did urge everyone to take the advice of health experts.

"I'm not being critical of people who have cancelled events, but I am following the science," he said at a press conference yesterday.

"People will make decisions to cancel events, but if a football match is played behind closed doors, people will gather to watch it in a pub. That's a higher risk environment.

"With outdoor events, the risks are less.

"There are only limited benefits to cancellations. We also have to weigh up the social and economic gains and losses."

The Londonderry and Downpatrick St Patrick's Day parades became the latest public events to fall victim to the coronavirus after they were cancelled yesterday.

Dublin and Belfast's parades were cancelled on Monday due to fears large-scale public gatherings could spread the virus.

But the SSE Arena said all its events were currently going ahead as planned.

Dr McBride said Northern Ireland was still in the containment phase of the virus.

"It's important we do not move to the delay phase too early," he added. "I don't follow social media, but a lot of the coverage has been unhelpful and caused great concern. I would say don't panic, prepare and don't be alarmed. Be aware. We should not do things just because others are doing them.

"It's difficult to say it's a mistake (to cancel) events like St Patrick's Day. I understand the difficulty in trying to look ahead, but we have to avoid a mass panic scenario. The decision does seem at odds with the advice from the Health Minister."

Four new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Northern Ireland yesterday, taking the total to 16.

To date, 237 tests have been carried out.

None of the positive cases were community transmitted as all have been traced to contact with someone who had recently returned home from Italy.

"When we reach the community transmittance stage, we will reassess, but we're not there yet," said Dr McBride.

"That means when we can't trace contact to anyone who has been travelling. That's when we can say the virus is out in the community.

"If we get this right, we have the capacity to reduce the number of people contracting the virus by 50%, so following the advice we have been issuing is vital.

"We are still likely to see an increase in the coming days and weeks, but what we want to do is manage the peak number of cases to minimise the pressure on the health service. We want to flatten that peak and move it away from the winter pressures.

"If we move too early, that will reduce the benefits. Social fatigue can set in and the ability to sustain the precautions may wane.

"We do anticipate increased numbers of cases over the next weeks and months."

He added that no one in Northern Ireland had yet suffered from severe illness and people "can be reassured that for the vast majority of people this is a mild to moderate illness".

Belfast Telegraph