The Health Minister Robin Swann is set to recommend a series of “crucial interventions” to the NI Executive when it meets on Thursday after warning the threat of Covid will ”cast a shadow well into January.”
Speaking at Wednesday’s media briefing, Mr Swann admitted Northern Ireland is “not where we want to be” after the recent two weeks of restrictions failed to bring the reproductive rate of the virus (R-rate) down to the required level.
A further eight deaths linked to Covid-19 were recorded in the last 24 hours, taking the Department of Health’s total to 1,143.
There have been 510 more positive tests, taking the overall total to 59,631.
The Executive will now consider “robust interventions” on Thursday to try and manage the spread of the virus.
“We now once again need a united front across society to get us through this period and into better days,” the Minister said.
The Executive is expected to decide on Thursday the timing and extent of any further restrictions to be imposed after the planned five-day Christmas relaxation from December 23-27.
“People will look to the executive for a robust intervention and rightly so,” he said. “But let’s remember the power is in all our hands. We can stop the virus spreading.”
Mr Swann said the measures would “mitigate against” increasing pressures on the health service.
“It’s threat will hang over all our Christmases and cast a shadow well into January.”
“I cannot explain how concerned I am about what we face in January.
“We now once again need a united front throughout society to get us through this period,” he said.
Chief Executive of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust, Jennifer Welsh, said she and her colleagues are “extremely concerned” about the current rise in Covid-19 levels.
“You will have seen the media images of 17 ambulances parked outside Antrim Area Hospital’s emergency department yesterday,” she said.
“Doctors and nurses caring for them in the ambulances because we literally had no room to come inside.
“Yesterday, a quarter of the patients at the hospital were Covid-positive,
“We have warned for some months now of our hospitals operating beyond capacity.
“It would be entirely wrong to say it happens every winter. This is not a normal winter.”
Mr Swann revealed that so far around 5,300 people have received a Covid-19 vaccination so far in Northern Ireland.
“That was delivered in more than 90 care homes across all our trusts,” he said.
“The hope that this vaccine brings in a few months time, I don’t think we can afford to lose over the next few months by simply ignoring the restrictions and the guidance that are currently in place.
And he warned that there would be “dark hours ahead” before the vaccination programme kicks in by spring and summer next year.
He also refused to apportion blame for the events at Antrim Hospital on Tuesday night which at one stage saw 17 ambulances gathered and patients being treated in the car park as there were no beds available.
“What we saw in Antrim on Tuesday, it isn’t fair to point the finger of blame. We are managing services under extreme pressures,” he said.