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Selfish minority to blame if rules on coronavirus lockdown get tighter, says Stormont minister Swann


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Police patrol Botanic Gardens in Belfast yesterday morning

Police patrol Botanic Gardens in Belfast yesterday morning

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Shoppers queue at a Tesco

Shoppers queue at a Tesco

PA

Robin Swann

Robin Swann

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Dr George O’Neill

Dr George O’Neill

Police patrol Botanic Gardens in Belfast yesterday morning

Northern Ireland's Health Minister has warned that the majority of people here could end up suffering for the selfish actions of the minority.

With Easter weekend approaching and warmer weather on the horizon, Robin Swann has highlighted the danger of "dropping our guard".

His comments come as the current lockdown, originally scheduled to last three weeks to Easter Monday, looks set to be extended for several more weeks.

Mr Swann has also warned that more stringent restrictions could be introduced if the current rules continue to be flouted.

"My focus is firmly on getting us through this surge and if I have to bring in additional restrictions to that, then so be it," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"This is not something I will do lightly, so I am asking everyone to adhere to the restrictions."

He added: "I am hearing anecdotal evidence that a minority continue to flout the rules.

"That selfishness will have an impact in the coming weeks and it could be you, your neighbour or your loved one that feels that impact.

"Do not let the minority ruin it for the majority."

Both a doctor and a professor of molecular virology said Northern Ireland's current clampdown "probably" does not go far enough.

Dr George O'Neill said people must not be allowed "to drive to second homes, beaches or parks" and he also voiced concerns about people browsing in supermarkets.

"We want people to stay within a short radius of their homes," he said.

"People should stick to a given area and not move out of it and realise that they're saving lives.

"They're also ensuring that the capacity is there in the health service to deal with this onslaught that we're going to face."

Dr O'Neill said browsing in supermarkets is a problem.

"People are concerned about people lifting items off shelves and putting them back - that is a risk to others," he said.

"Another complaint being made is stacking of shelves - maybe they should close aisles while that is being done."

He added: "There's an etiquette we have to develop. There's a learning curve. Lots of stores have a system which offers some degree of protection to their staff and their customers and they should be commended for that."

Dr Ultan Power, who is based at Queen's University Belfast's School of Medicine, raised concerns that a lot of people still appear to "moving about the place".

"I'm a bit concerned there might be a little bit of breakout," said Dr Power.

He also said he believes the isolation period for those infected with Covid-19 should be extended to 14 days.

"I know the recommendation is seven days," he said.

"I have great concerns about that because we have evidence to indicate that people are still infectious after eight.

"The evidence is telling us that going back to work on day eight is taking a big risk."

He added: "I absolutely think it should be longer, the recommendation for most other countries is 14 days."

Dr Power said the key to beating coronavirus is "all about stopping people from interacting with one and other as much as possible".

"What everybody can do is respect social distancing and stay at home," he said.

"They can make a huge difference to the transmission of the virus.

"Every single person in Northern Ireland can take this responsibility personally to avoid that surge and make sure the most vulnerable people don't end up in hospital."

Dr Power said there is a valid argument for more severe lockdown restrictions if the current rules are being flouted.

He added: "If reasonable numbers of people are not respecting the recommendations that are there, it obviously puts the most vulnerable people at greater risk of infection and therefore of dying from the disease, but it also means the virus itself will keep circulating for a much longer period of time within society."

When asked how long the lockdown will last, Dr Power said statistics are key.

"We have to follow the data," he said.

"What is the level of infection? How many people are dying?

"Then you can starting making decisions on easing restrictions.

"But it has to be based on what's actually happening on the ground."

Meanwhile, Dr Anne Carson, chair of the BMA NI consultants committee, asked people to help medical staff by staying at home over Easter.

"Doctors across Northern Ireland, from the most junior doctor to the most experienced consultant, will be working over Easter to care for patients, not only those with Covid-19, but with other illnesses as well," she said.

"Please help us to help your families by staying at home.

"Celebrate with just those in your own household.

"If you are out for a walk or cycle, observe social distance."

Belfast Telegraph