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Northern Ireland will require 'significant’ Covid intervention measures after Christmas as Omicron concerns mount, Executive warned


Paul Givan speaking at Stormont.

Paul Givan speaking at Stormont.

Paul Givan speaking at Stormont.

A briefing paper presented to Executive ministers on Thursday has warned that a “significant intervention” will be needed “immediately” after Christmas in order to protect the health service.

Ministers are meeting in Stormont to hear a briefing from the chief medical and scientific advisors.

A Stormont modelling paper seen by the Executive has warned that a significant intervention will be needed after Christmas, at the latest, to keep Covid inpatient numbers below 1,000 if the severity of Omicron is close to that of the Delta variant.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

The Department of Health paper said: "If Omicron is associated with disease severity close to that of Delta, significant intervention would be required immediately after Christmas at the latest to have a reasonable chance of keeping hospital inpatient numbers at less than 1,000."

The Department of Health paper circulated to ministers ahead of Thursday's meeting of the Executive added: "It is likely that a peak in case numbers will occur in the middle third of January, with hospital admissions and occupancy peaking in late January/early February.

"The extent of the hospital peak will depend on the severity of Omicron illness, but without further measures is likely to exceed numbers observed earlier in the epidemic, potentially several fold."

No significant announcements on Covid restrictions are expected after Thursday's Executive with the meeting instead being billed as an opportunity for ministers to assess the data around Omicron.

Earlier this week, Chief Medical Officer Sir Michael McBride urged all adults to get a booster vaccine as he and chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young said Omicron is likely to become the dominant strain in Northern Ireland before the new year.

Prof Young said Omicron is expected to peak in mid-January and daily case numbers are likely to be higher than at any other time during the pandemic.

Their call comes as the booster programme in Northern Ireland is set to ramp up, with over 18s offered a jab from Monday at walk in hubs in local health trusts.

While appointment booking will then open from Wednesday.

Those eligible must also have received their second dose of the Covid vaccine at least three months ago.

Meanwhile, speaking to BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme, a hospitality chief warned the industry is in “freefall” with a raft of cancelled bookings in the run up to Christmas.

Hospitality Ulster chief Colin Neill said the current situation is “worse than lockdown” due to the lack of financial support offered to businesses losing money.

Mr Neill said there has been “no mention of support” for the hospitality industry from the Executive ahead of a meeting with businesses in the sector.

“The industry is in freefall, we have seen practically all our Christmas bookings cancelled consumer confidence wiped out and we have extra restrictions on top of us as well. We are unsustainable,” Mr Neill told BBC NI.

“The silence has been deafening [from the Executive]. No mention of support.

"We do a third of our year’s turnover in this period now if you look at it I have over 70% of business saying they are more than 30% down I have 25% of business saying they are more than 50% down.”

He added: "Let’s all be honest here we hear the Scottish messages here, those wreck consumer confidence.

"When Scotland say don’t party, do you think people here don’t hear that? I am not arguing with the science, what we are saying is you have an industry which is Northern Ireland’s fourth largest private sector employer which is in crisis.

“There are almost 73,000 people depend on hospitality for a living. Do we just throw them on the scrap heap?

"For a lot in our industry [the current situation] is actually worse than lockdown, it is lockdown on the cheap. At least when we were locked down we had protection from the banks... plus we had special loans and there was furlough for our staff.”

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