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Coronavirus: Stormont advisers want additional measures in place before hospitality sector reopens

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Northern Ireland's hospitality sector will reopen on a gradual basis. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Northern Ireland's hospitality sector will reopen on a gradual basis. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Northern Ireland's hospitality sector will reopen on a gradual basis. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Stormont's top Covid experts are to engage with Northern Ireland's hospitality sector in a bid to have additional measures put in place ahead of bars and restaurants reopening.

The hospitality sector is scheduled to fully reopen on November 27, however, Stormont's chief scientific officer, Professor Ian Young last week warned it was "more likely than not" that the Department of Health would be recommending the introduction of more Covid-19 restrictions before Christmas.

At a virtual media briefing on Tuesday he reiterated that it is "not possible" to relax restrictions "without some risk of increased transmission of the virus".

"That means an increase in the value of R," he explained.

The CSO's fresh warning comes as a further nine people with Covid-19 were reported on Tuesday to have died in Northern Ireland, according to the Department of Health.

The death toll recorded by the department now stands at 878.

There were also another 549 confirmed cases of the virus recorded in the last 24-hour reporting period.

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Stormont’s Chief Scientific AdvisEr Professor Ian Young (Kelvin Boyes/Presseye/PA)

Stormont’s Chief Scientific AdvisEr Professor Ian Young (Kelvin Boyes/Presseye/PA)

PA

Stormont’s Chief Scientific AdvisEr Professor Ian Young (Kelvin Boyes/Presseye/PA)

Professor Young said he looked forward to discussing with the hospitality sector what additional measures it can put in place to limit that risk as much as possible when the sector reopens.

"There are some additional mitigations that might be useful," he said.

"Paying more attention to ventilation and possibility of limiting the numbers who can be present in various premises."

He added: "We anticipate an increased transmission of the virus and in due course an increase in terms of pressure on hospitals in relation to admissions and inpatients.

"The modelling suggests it is more likely than not that additional intervention of some kind would be required before Christmas in order to avoid pressures on the hospital system becoming overwhelming."

He said sectors contributing to interactions included close contact services, hospitality and education.

"There are no easy solutions and there are no new solutions."

He added he was "optimistic and positive" about the potential impact of vaccination and also the potential increase in testing.

"They have huge potential to change things."

He said it would be next year before much of that began to make an impact.

A number of successful vaccination trial results have been announced over recent days, including the Pfizer vaccine.

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Dr Michael McBride (Presseye/PA)

Dr Michael McBride (Presseye/PA)

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Dr Michael McBride (Presseye/PA)

Chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride confirmed that Northern Ireland could be allocated a proportion of 10m doses of the Pfizer Covid vaccine before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, both advisers have insisted they did not consider resigning amid the bitter political divisions in relation to the row over the extension of the circuit-breaker restrictions.

Dr McBride and Professor Young appeared to dismiss any suggestion during the briefing that the Executive’s decision to extend the circuit-breaker by only one week - and not the two they had advised - called into question their roles.

Last week Stormont leaders clashed over a contentious voting mechanism that enabled the DUP to throw out a proposed extension of the circuit-breaker, exposing deep divisions within the Executive.

Dr McBride said the political developments has no bearing on their work, saying: “Our role is to provide our the best advice to the ministers and we will continue to do that to the best of our ability.

“Ian and I have both said patently; we will not be found wanting if firmer advice on wider or deeper restrictions are required - or indeed any other intervention.”

He continued: “It is a privilege to uphold this office and I will continue to do that job as long as I’m able to do so.

“We have a difficult and challenging next number of months ahead of us. I know what my responsibilities are, to continue to serve the population of Northern Ireland and all ministers around the Executive table.”

When asked categorically if he had considered his position last week, the CMO insisted he was “too busy” with his responsibilities on a day-to-day basis to think “beyond next week or next month”.

“I will continue to fulfill those responsibilities to the best of my ability. I think I’ve answered the question,” added Dr McBride.

Professor Young stressed that he felt that the advice they provided to the Executive was “heard and listened to very carefully”.

“I did not feel in any way that the advice which was provided was ignored or discarded,” he explained.

“I think we’ve consistently said along that with our advice, the Executive needs to take into account the economic factors and societal factors which are very important.”

Belfast Telegraph


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