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First coronavirus wave will not overwhelm ICUs: Robin Swann

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Health Minister Robin Swann speaking at Stormont yesterday

Health Minister Robin Swann speaking at Stormont yesterday

PA

Health Minister Robin Swann speaking at Stormont yesterday

Northern Ireland will not require extra critical care capacity to cope with the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Health Minister has said.

Robin Swann was speaking at Stormont's Health Committee yesterday, which also heard from chief medical officer Michael McBride.

Currently, intensive care units here are looking after 38 patients with Covid-19 and 40 non-Covid-19 patients, with a total of 56 being ventilated, Mr Swann revealed.

He added that the latest available information had shown that there are 38 spare adult ICU beds.

Mr Swann told MLAs that the health service currently has 197 ventilators, with orders pending for more, which would bring the total to more than 400.

"For the time being, our latest data modelling indicates that further critical care capacity will not be required during the first wave of transmission in Northern Ireland," he said.

"Modelling has indicated that we are now in the peak of the first wave of the pandemic, but it's too early to confirm whether the current figures represent the peak."

He stressed that planning is under way for a potential second wave later this year, should a vaccine not be available.

"Much progress has been made... (but) we are by no means out of the woods yet," he said.

He also praised the public for their "grace and patience" in dealing with the lockdown, but warned that we had not yet "reached the point where some of the restrictions can be relaxed".

Meanwhile, testing will continue to progress at a "rapid" rate, the Health Minister emphasised, revealing that on Tuesday 1,112 tests had been carried out - achieving Stormont's aim of completing 1,100 tests a day.

Dr McBride revealed that testing capacity could reach to 1,700 tests per day.

However, he cautioned that widespread testing was only one key factor in beating Covid-19, not the solution.

"We will not test this virus into submission. This virus is not going away," he said.

"We need to use our testing capacity intelligently."

He also revealed that contact tracing to track the spread of coronavirus is set to start in Northern Ireland next week, with the piloting of an enhanced contact tracing programme.

He said it was previously stopped based on "sound public health considerations".

He added that as we move into the next phase it will become "crucially important" to ramp up contact tracing to get on top of local pockets of the virus.

Dr McBride said officials will work alongside colleagues in Britain and the Republic using similar digital platforms to share information and enhance tracing.

Mr Swann also acknowledged concern around the reporting of Covid-19 statistics, but stressed the daily published figures would never be exact.

"These daily figures are compiled for surveillance purposes to help us track the virus and keep the public as informed as possible," he said.

"They will always be subject to some degree of revision as deaths will be officially registered at different times."

Dr McBride also defended the figures, insisting the process here compares favourably to other parts of the UK and the Republic.

"The process of registration of deaths is complicated, it's actually more timely in Northern Ireland than other parts of this island, and indeed other parts of the UK," he said.

Belfast Telegraph