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Coronavirus: 'Small indications' social distancing preventing surge as report major PPE order to be made

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General view of police officers monitoring traffic and members of the public on the Upper Newtownards Road area at the entrance to Stormont Estate as traffic increased on Tuesday lunchtime. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

General view of police officers monitoring traffic and members of the public on the Upper Newtownards Road area at the entrance to Stormont Estate as traffic increased on Tuesday lunchtime. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

General view of police officers monitoring traffic and members of the public on the Upper Newtownards Road area at the entrance to Stormont Estate as traffic increased on Tuesday lunchtime. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) has said there are small indications social distancing is working which may be responsible for the absence of a predicted surge.

It comes as the BBC reports Northern Ireland’s Department of Health is to place an order for £170million of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Dr Gerry Waldron, assistant director at the PHA stressed the public staying in doors over the Easter break was crucial in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

“It is always very, very difficult looking at the day-to-day figures but there is a very small indication (that social distancing is working),” he told BBC Good Morning Ulster.

“I just have to stress that it is very difficult to predict but there is a small indication in terms of deaths and positive cases the numbers aren’t ramping up to the extent we expected during this current week.

“The important thing is to avoid complacency and to avoid thinking because they may be some glimmer of hope in the picture that that is an indication if anything that people are sticking to the advice to stay home and not to go out except for specified reasons.”

He said this weekend will be “absolutely crucial”in battling the virus spread, and people would likely be tempted to go out and travel if there was nice weather.

“This is going to go on for a bit longer and it is still not clear where the end is in sight. But if people stay at home and stick to the advice we can be hopeful that we are going to turn this thing around.

“We are going to flatten the curve.”

Health officials had said they expected the first wave to peak between 6 and 20 April, with a second surge expected later in 2020.

First Minister Arlene Foster urged the public to stay at home and to not go out unless necessary. She said to do so was saving lives.

Health Minister Robin Swann added: "None of us should break or bend the rules this Easter. We must all stay at home. Be part of the fight back not the virus."

The BBC Nolan show reported on Friday the Department of Health has set aside a £60m deposit with a Chinese firm for PPE supplies.

The proposed order is understood to include 28.8m face masks, 12m respirator masks and 28m each of aprons and visors.

However, leaked documents, seen by the Nolan Show, reveal concerns that goods from China may not be of high enough quality as well as concern it could lead to competition with the supply route used by the UK government.

At the Health Committee on Thursday, chief social worker Sean Holland said there were no concerns over the quality of current PPE stocks. There was more concern, he said, with the length of time medics were having to wear them.

The Department for Health said the order had not been confirmed.

In a statement it added: "It is entirely right for officials to scrutinise and test any such proposals, stressing the need for due diligence and emphasising that any procurement must be compatible with NHS four nations arrangements."

The development comes after Finance Minister Conor Murphy faced criticism over his public pronouncements about a significant consignment expected to arrive as part of a joint order with Dublin.

It was later reported there was no order placed. Mr Murphy said bidders from India and the US muscled out Northern Ireland in the global race to buy PPE.

It is understood Health Secretary Matt Hancock will address Northern Ireland's PPE order at a briefing later on Friday.

Belfast Telegraph