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Coronavirus: Hospital visits to be banned as chief medic warns 'many thousands' infected in Northern Ireland

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Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride during a  media briefing  in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont PHOTO PACEMAKER PRESS

Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride during a media briefing in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont PHOTO PACEMAKER PRESS

Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride during a media briefing in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont PHOTO PACEMAKER PRESS

A ban on hospital visits is set to be announced as health officials battle to slow the spread of coronavirus.

It comes as Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said he believed many thousands of people here were infected with Covid-19.

Seven people have died here to date, the Public Health Agency (PHA) said on Wednesday.

The ban on hospital visits comes after the daughter of a woman, who died after contracting Covid-19, spoke out saying people were not respecting hospital rules.

Ruth Burke (82) became the fourth person to die from coronavirus in Northern Ireland after she passed away at Antrim Area Hospital on Monday night.

Her daughter Brenda Doherty claimed that after the hospital introduced the one visitor per person rule "not everyone was respectful of the rules".

Elsewhere, Dr McBride said he believes that "many thousands" of people are currently infected with coronavirus here.

He made the astonishing claim at the daily Covid-19 press conference at Stormont Castle.

This came after the PHA earlier confirmed that the total number of people who have tested positive for the virus was 209.

Health Minister Robin Swann also revealed a number of new measures being brought in by the health service to help slow down the virus' spread.

Meanwhile, First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill both slammed businesses in Northern Ireland for not making provisions for social distancing and threatened to "shut" them down.

The PHA's daily Covid-19 surveillance bulletin stated that another 37 people tested positive for the virus as another three people passed away.

Of those who have tested positive, 72 (34%) were aged 0 to 44; 73 (35%) were 45 to 69, and 64 (31%) were aged 70 or older. Ninety-two were female and 117 were male.

Testing will increase to more than 1,000 a day by next week - and that will help give a better idea of the infection's spread, Dr McBride added.

As part of the Executive's bid to combat Covid-19 a new mobile app will be launched today to provide information to the public and help identify those self-isolating after developing symptoms.

"At this point in time I suspect there are many thousands of individual cases in Northern Ireland and in terms of the app, that will allow us to identify those individuals who are self-isolating at home with those symptoms," commented Dr McBride.

"That will give us a picture of the numbers of individuals and some idea of the spread of the virus.

"That's very good intelligence and that will allow us to monitor the percentage of the population with a new and continuous cough or fever."

Mr Swann explained that the Department of Health is currently finalising around 40,000 letters that will be sent to vulnerable people across the province.

It is expected that those letters will tell people to self-isolate for 12 weeks.

He added that his department is also planning to develop a "volunteer army" not just for the health service but "across the community", while a free phone helpline will also be available from the end of the week.

Meanwhile, some workers at the Moy Park poultry producer in Portadown walked out for a period over safety concerns linked to Covid-19 and social distancing.

The company said it was taking their welfare seriously.

Commenting on employers' responsibilities around social distancing, Mrs Foster said that emergency legislation will allow the Executive to take action against those flouting the guidelines.

"The Minister for the Economy has asked the Health and Safety Executive to urgently ensure that employers are now following those health and safety practices," she stated.

Mrs O'Neill added: "You are compromising not just your workers' health but you're compromising our response to this crisis.

"I saw again for myself travelling here today, many men travelling to work together in a van," she said.

"That is not acceptable.

"It's time to get real because this virus is killing people."

Belfast Telegraph