End-of-school parties and anti-social behaviour by young people are being reported in Northern Ireland, despite the “impending catastrophe” of Covid-19, police have said.
The country recorded its biggest daily increase in cases on Saturday and a senior Belfast doctor warned huge numbers of patients will die during the coronavirus pandemic.
Students no longer in school after they were ordered to close risk passing the virus to more vulnerable groups like the elderly, so police urged party participants to consider the wellbeing of others and follow official guidance.
Huge numbers of people will die and the only thing that will have any impact on this impending catastrophe is slowing the spread of this virusDr Julia Courtney
A respiratory consultant in the Ulster Hospital in Co Down, Dr Julia Courtney, said: “It is hard to actually convey just the enormity of the crisis that is looming for the NHS, and so for everyone, in the next few weeks.
“Huge numbers of people will die and the only thing that will have any impact on this impending catastrophe is slowing the spread of this virus.
“This is the week that the most people who are infected without knowing it will cause the virus to spread.
“What you do today will affect the intensive care unit (ICU) beds in the hospitals in the next two to three weeks.
“So please, please, please, stay at home if you can.”
Please take the time to listen to Dr Julia Courtney, consultant colleague in the Ulster hospital. It is essential the public take the need to socially isolate seriously. We are 14 days behind Italy and 6 behind Spain. #protecttheNHS pic.twitter.com/uoprXOZWih— Johnny cash (@JohnnyCash_ni) March 20, 2020
A total of 22 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed on Saturday in Northern Ireland, bringing the overall tally to 108.
Production of ventilators by a company with a base in Ireland, Medtronic, has more than doubled amid a global shortage of the life-saving hospital equipment.
While most schools have been closed, some will be open for the children of key workers from Monday.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said: “Police are still receiving reports of anti-social behaviour and end-of-school parties.
“Please review the advice of the health minister (Robin Swann), consider the health of others and adhere to the social distance practices outlined by the health department.”
Police are still receiving reports of anti social behaviour and end of school parties. Please review the advice of the Health Minister below, consider the health of others and adhere to the social distance practices outlined by @healthdpt. #COVID19 https://t.co/2S7xDlgFD6— Police Service NI (@PoliceServiceNI) March 21, 2020
Mr Swann said childcare – both day care and childminding – will continue to meet the needs of parents who are key workers.
“It will also continue to ensure that children who are vulnerable can continue to access childcare,” he added, saying his officials are developing guidance.
“My aim is to provide as much flexibility as possible within the boundaries of safe childcare.”
Pubs and other venues have closed as ministers urged social distancing and the Government pledged to underpin wages to massive numbers of staff affected.
Addressing reports of groups of young people continuing to gather in close proximity, speaking directly to them, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People Koulla Yiasouma said the restrictions are “hard and confusing”.
She added: “You have been robbed of so many of the things that young people do, of gathering together to meet your friends to celebrate the end of school year, especially if this is your GCSE or A-level year.”
She said it is normal to want to do these things, but these are not normal times.
“From now and until this crisis passes, there is no longer adults and children, young and old, us and you, there is just us – we are in this together and we must work together with this one chance we have to stay as safe and healthy as possible.”
From Monday, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service will suspend most patient transport service to hospital outpatient appointments.
Covid-19 means hospitals have reduced non-urgent appointments while many patients have decided against travelling.
Those having essential treatments for renal problems and cancer will still be transported.
Meanwhile, a senior trade unionist said all civil servants should be repaid money they lost during recent strike action in parity with measures taken to reimburse striking nurses.
Stormont deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill said health workers who took industrial action earlier this year will be reimbursed as they battle Covid-19.
Nipsa general secretary Alison Millar said of the workers she represents: “Many of these staff are now classified as key workers and will ensure that many vital public services will continue to be delivered during the next weeks and months ahead.
This is clearly an issue of equality and equal treatment for all public sector workersAlison Millar
“I am calling on the finance minister (Conor Murphy) and his Executive colleagues to now recognise the vital role that civil servants deliver and reimburse the pay deducted from Nipsa members who took strike action since 26 July 2019.”
Nipsa members across the Northern Ireland civil service and related bodies took between three and six days of strike action since last July.
Ms Millar added: “This is clearly an issue of equality and equal treatment for all public sector workers.”