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Northern Ireland field hospital sites soon to be confirmed in coronavirus fight, says Foster

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First Minister Arlene Foster during her conference call yesterday

First Minister Arlene Foster during her conference call yesterday

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill at the Stormont media briefing

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill at the Stormont media briefing

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

A makeshift Covid-19 hospital being built in the Odyssey carpark

A makeshift Covid-19 hospital being built in the Odyssey carpark

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A PSNI officer takes a picture of a message of support for the NHS in the Bogside area of Londonderry

A PSNI officer takes a picture of a message of support for the NHS in the Bogside area of Londonderry

PA

First Minister Arlene Foster during her conference call yesterday

Health Minister Robin Swann will decide where field hospital sites could be set up in Northern Ireland to treat those less severely ill with coronavirus in the "near future".

First Minister Arlene Foster told the daily briefing by the Stormont Executive that a number of field hospitals are under consideration.

She suggested places being looked at included the former Maze prison site outside Lisburn, which hosts the annual Balmoral Show.

Mrs Foster said the Health Minister "intends to flex up his own estate in relation to intensive care beds but as the virus takes hold he believes it will be necessary to expand his hospital estate".

The DUP leader added: "The minister will come to a decision on that in the near future. I absolutely support him in the need to expand our capability at this particular point in time and to do everything we can to protect lives because that is what we are engaged in, in this Executive."

Mrs Foster said intensive care unit (ICU) beds would not be located in the field hospitals, similar to that being built at London's ExCel centre.

"When we talk about a field hospital we are not talking about tents. We are talking about the like of what we have seen in the Nightingale Hospital located at the Excel Arena in London," she said.

The briefing came as health officials confirmed that the number of people who have died in Northern Ireland after contracting coronavirus has risen by six to 28. Testing has resulted in 53 new positive results, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the region to 586.

Meanwhile, Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said the chief medical officers in Northern Ireland and the Republic will sign a memorandum of understanding formalising co-ordination and co-operation between the Irish Government and the Executive this week.

It comes after Mrs Foster and Ms O'Neill held a "successful and important meeting" yesterday with Secretary of State Brandon Lewis, the Republic's Health Minister Simon Harris, and Tanaiste Simon Coveney.

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Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill at the Stormont media briefing

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill at the Stormont media briefing

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill at the Stormont media briefing

Ms O'Neill said: "This disease does not respect borders. We live on one island and it is important that we co-operate and collaborate as much as we can as we go through a public health emergency."

The Sinn Fein deputy leader added that while she was not undermining the Department of Health, she has a duty to call out where she thinks there is a difference of approach on issues.

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A makeshift Covid-19 hospital being built in the Odyssey carpark

A makeshift Covid-19 hospital being built in the Odyssey carpark

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A makeshift Covid-19 hospital being built in the Odyssey carpark

Ms O'Neill said: "I subscribe to the World Health Organisation's approach, I subscribe to the European evidence, that's the approach that I believe we should be following and their evidence clearly says that we should be doing more testing, we should be isolating and tracing. I want us to get to that point and I am going to continue to work with Executive colleagues to make sure that we get to that point."

Earlier, Professor Gabriel Scally from the University of Bristol said the island of Ireland needs to work as one unit in the fight against coronavirus.

He warned there was a risk of squandering the geographical advantage of living on an island because of different health policies either side of the border.

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A PSNI officer takes a picture of a message of support for the NHS in the Bogside area of Londonderry

A PSNI officer takes a picture of a message of support for the NHS in the Bogside area of Londonderry

PA

A PSNI officer takes a picture of a message of support for the NHS in the Bogside area of Londonderry

When asked to respond to his comments, Mrs Foster said: "I am very content that I take my advice on science and what we need to do from our chief medical officer, who has access to the modelling in the UK and WHO and who is in very close contact with the chief medical officer in the Republic of Ireland."

Mrs Foster also commended Northern Ireland businesses which have joined the effort to equip frontline health care workers with "much needed" personal protective equipment (PPE).

Mrs Foster applauded O'Neills in Strabane for switching from sportswear manufacturing to producing medical scrubs and praised Bloc Blinds in Magherafelt and QUB's School of Pharmacy for helping to produce protective shield masks.

She also praised several distillers which are now producing bottles of hand sanitisers, takeaway services that are keeping NHS staff fed and Translink for providing free transport to healthcare workers.

Belfast Telegraph