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Swann agrees to send oxygen generators to crisis-hit India

Minister’s officials also poised to allow more visits to hospitals, care homes and hospices


Robin Swann with one of the generators. Credit: Michael Cooper

Robin Swann with one of the generators. Credit: Michael Cooper

Robin Swann with one of the generators. Credit: Michael Cooper

Northern Ireland is sending three oxygen generators capable of producing 500 litres of oxygen a minute to India, where the official Covid-19 death toll has surpassed 200,000.

It comes after discussions between Health Minister Robin Swann and Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock and will see the equipment delivered to India to help ease the devastating shortage of oxygen in the country.

Mr Swann said: “A humanitarian crisis is unfolding, and providing support is undoubtedly the right thing to do.

“Oxygen supply is under severe stress in India’s health system. The oxygen generation units are each capable of providing 500 litres of oxygen per minute, and I sincerely hope these units can help save lives.

“The scenes in India are a vivid reminder of the destructiveness of the virus. We must never lose sight of the damage it is capable of inflicting.”

The Belfast Trust bought a number of oxygen generation component parts last year as part of Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 response, and they were used to assemble a number of containerised oxygen generator plants that could be deployed as an emergency backup supply source for hospitals here during the pandemic.

The three machines being delivered to India have not been required at a hospital here to date.

Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that health officials are preparing to release new guidance that will allow increased visiting in hospitals, hospices and care homes.

Mr Swann has been coming under increasing pressure to intervene to enable patients and care home residents to enjoy visits from family and friends.

He said: “I fully recognise the desire for more visiting. Receiving a face-to-face visit from a loved one is so important to people who are unwell, elderly or vulnerable.

“Of course, we also have to remain vigilant about the continuing threat from the virus and strike the right balance.”

The new guidance will include a new approach to supporting safe and proportionate increased visiting in care homes. This will include updated arrangements for the safe management of care home residents receiving visitors, as well as residents being able to visit other households and community facilities and take part in excursions.

In addition, new guidance is being finalised by the department for visiting in hospices and hospitals, including maternity and other services.

Also yesterday, the Department of Health announced a further expansion to the current asymptomatic testing programme for workforces as officials ramp up efforts to keep the Covid-19 virus under control as further restrictions are lifted tomorrow.

All organisations with 10 or more employees or volunteers who cannot work from home can now access the workforce asymptomatic testing programme. Previously this was open to organisations with more than 50 employees.

Mr Swann said: “Since the launch of the Northern Ireland asymptomatic testing programme, there has been a great deal of interest from employers, with 321 expressions of interest made. These have come from organisations and companies in the public, private and third sectors.

“This is a significant move in the testing programme as up to one-third of people who have coronavirus are asymptomatic. My department is focusing on rapidly identifying these people to isolate and reduce transmission of the virus. This will be essential as Northern Ireland moves out of lockdown.

“The further extension will enable even more organisations to take advantage of this important weapon in the fight against Covid-19.”

One Covid-19 related death was announced yesterday and a further 98 cases were reported.

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