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Three more coronavirus deaths in NI as GPs call for ‘complete lockdown’

The Belfast doctors expressed concern that current social distancing measures were not stringent enough.

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Northern Ireland continues to brace itself for a surge in cases (Michael Cooper/PA)

Northern Ireland continues to brace itself for a surge in cases (Michael Cooper/PA)

Northern Ireland continues to brace itself for a surge in cases (Michael Cooper/PA)

Doctors have appealed for a complete lockdown in Northern Ireland amid fears not enough is being done to limit the spread of coronavirus.

The calls from GPs across Belfast came as the deaths of three further people with Covid-19 were confirmed, taking the region’s toll to 13.

On Friday, the Public Health Agency said there had been 34 new positive cases of the infection.

The total number of confirmed cases now sits at 275 but health chiefs acknowledge thousands are likely to have already contracted Covid-19 across the region.

The latest figures were released as chairs of the city’s four GP federations wrote an open letter warning Northern Ireland’s politicians that current social distancing regulations were “not stringent enough”.

“We are dismayed at the actions of many members of the public, who, it seems to us, are failing to understand the gravity of the current situation in which we find ourselves,” they wrote.

They added: “We call on our political leaders to hear and act on our heartfelt pleas, and move to adopt a ‘complete lockdown’ as we have seen in other countries, at the earliest opportunity.”

Northern Ireland continues to brace itself for a surge in cases.

Work is under way to establish large temporary field hospitals for coronavirus patients after modelling indicated that the current health service network may not have the capacity to cope at the peak of the outbreak.

A soon-to-be-decommissioned Army base in Co Down will be used as a temporary morgue if current body storage facilities are overwhelmed.

Coronavirus
Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill have been urged by GPs to introduce a ‘complete lockdown’ (Kelvin Boyes/PA)

However, as on Friday night, new enforcement regulations to prevent public gatherings and halt unsafe working practices were still not agreed by executive ministers.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill insisted the measures would be introduced in the coming days.

Meanwhile, medics who are dealing with the unfolding crisis continue to raise concerns about the standard and supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

On Friday, it was announced that the Stormont executive had made a joint order alongside the authorities in Ireland for a “significant” consignment of PPE from China.

Coronavirus testing in the region is expected to be significantly stepped up to 1,100 a day from next week but concerns persist that the rate is still lagging well behind testing regimes introduced in other countries battling the virus.

Coronavirus
Finance Minister Conor Murphy announced a “significant” order of PPE from China (Kelvin Boyes/PA)

Ms O’Neill said more testing was required, particularly for healthcare workers.

“There’s not enough testing happening, and I’ve been consistent in saying that,” she said.

“I raised it with the health minister (Robin Swann) and I’ll continue to work with the health minister to make sure that more testing happens.

“This is about trying to get people back into work, we need our healthcare workers back into work.”

Ms O’Neill urged people to join together to “fight back” against the virus.

“Please, please stay at home,” she said. “To everybody, this is our fightback. We have to fight now, don’t wait to next week. Don’t wait until next Friday. Don’t wait to the Friday after, our fightback is now, and we need people to do the right thing-  stay at home, stay apart, wash your hands – that’s the most crucial thing.”

Mrs Foster used Friday’s Stormont press briefing on the crisis to urge people to try to make contact with older members of the community who were isolated during the emergency.

“I’m asking you to make contact with your elderly neighbours and relatives, either by phone or by FaceTime, and even write them a letter or postcard,” she said.

“In fact, today I’m asking if you have a young person in your home and they’re finding it difficult perhaps to pass the day, why not get them to write a letter to your elderly relative or indeed your neighbour?

“In fact, you don’t even have to be young. I intend to write to some elderly friends this weekend, walk to the post box – that’s my daily exercise – and post some letters.”

On Friday, a new Covid-19 information app by launched by Stormont’s Department of Health.

The app will providing people with up-to-date advice and links to information.

It includes guidance on the symptoms of the infection and supports individuals to identify whether they might potentially have the infection.

PA