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Northern Ireland’s health minister warns of ‘hysteria’ surrounding coronavirus

He confirmed to the Northern Ireland Assembly that 150 people have been tested for the disease to date, with one testing positive last week.


Stormont health minister Robin Swann (Michael McHugh/PA)

Stormont health minister Robin Swann (Michael McHugh/PA)

Stormont health minister Robin Swann (Michael McHugh/PA)

Northern Ireland’s health minister has warned of the risks stemming from “undue panic or hysteria” in reaction to the outbreak of coronavirus.

Robin Swann said it is vital to keep a “balanced, proportionate approach” to dealing with the possibility of coronavirus spreading in Northern Ireland.

He confirmed to the Northern Ireland Assembly on Monday that 150 people have been tested for the disease to date, with one testing positive last week.

The Ulster Unionist said that the woman has been receiving appropriate specialist health care since their diagnosis was confirmed last Thursday.

He said that Northern Ireland has planned for worst case scenarios, adding that Stormont has also contributed to a UK-wide action plan due to be published on Tuesday.

He told the Assembly: “It is vital that we keep taking a balanced, proportionate approach at all times – with our actions based on the best scientific advice.

“Complacency is our enemy – but so too are panic and hysteria.

“As we’ve said, we will continue to prepare for all eventualities.

“It is normal practice to plan for worst case scenarios. This does not mean these outcomes are expected or likely. This is a really important point to underline.

“Our primary focus remains on containment at this time and then to delay and mitigate.

“There are risks for society in taking premature actions – actions not grounded in scientific advice.

“We have already heard fears being voiced about our economy and jobs, including in the tourism and hospitality sectors.

“Obviously, public health protection must come first. I’m sure all members would agree on that.

“However, premature actions in the current situation could also have impacts on our health. I’m thinking of the risks from undue panic or hysteria, and also of social isolation as a result of social distancing.”

Complacency is our enemy – but so too are panic and hysteriaRobin Swann

He said that the Public Health Agency have been publishing the number of tests on a weekly basis.

However, this is now changing to twice weekly updates following lat week’s development as well as the first confirmed coronavirus case in the Republic at the weekend.

He said that the woman diagnosed with Covid-19 in Northern Ireland followed public health advice and had self-isolated before seeking medical attention.

“I am sure Members will join me in wishing them a speedy recovery,” Mr Swann added.

The SDLP’s Justin McNulty queried whether Northern Ireland has access to a suitable amount of coronavirus testing kits.

Mr Swann said: “At present in Northern Ireland we can carry out about 32 tests per day.”

He added he wants to increase this so that several hundred tests can be completed per day.

Mr Swann also told Alliance Party MLA Paula Bradshaw that there is a plan in place to deal with an increase in cases.

“As coronovirus and cases expand we have the capacity in the system to manage those,” he added.

“It may result in us having to scale other services in the NHS back. I don’t want to make people concerned that it will bring the NHS to its knees, it won’t.”

Meanwhile, Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, Mr Swann and chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride, have participated in a Cobra meeting on Covid-19.

Ms Foster said: “We have had a very useful meeting of the UK Government’s emergency committee with the Prime Minister and colleagues from around the UK to discuss the current situation in relation to the Covid-19 virus.

“I am reassured that the procedures and practices that we have in place across the UK are robust and that the system is prepared for a range of scenarios.”

Ms O’Neill added: “It is vital that we work together to prevent the spread of the virus, including close cooperation north-south to tackle the issue.

“We will continue our engagement with ministers and health professionals in all jurisdictions on this basis.”