Robin Swann has admitted that the “draconian” lockdown regulations were hard for his two children.
Speaking to Interim Mental Health Champion Professor Siobhan O’Neil, the Health Minister said his family had struggled during the pandemic.
He insisted, however, the restrictions were essential to protect the public and people like his son Ewan (7), who was born with a heart defect.
“All the measures we used were draconian — they are not in my political DNA. They’re not what I wanted to do, but it was the right thing.
“My wee boy has heart disease — he was 13 months old before he got out of hospital, so the NHS means a lot to me.
“It wasn’t just important to me as Health Minister to get it right — it was as a father, as a
husband, as a son. There’s a big responsibility there, but one of the things that I found was that people were taking it personally... they were understanding what it meant to their loved ones.”
Mr Swann was previously criticised for saying that, in the worst-case scenario, the virus could kill 15,000 people in Northern Ireland. It later emerged that, in the interests of public safety, he had decided against making the best-case scenario public.
But the Health Minister defended his decision in the interview, saying: “It was important to get (the 15,000 figure) out there so that people could understand that if we didn’t get this right, if the people of Northern Ireland didn’t follow the guidance, that’s where we could have ended up.”
He stressed that with the virus still present in the community, his biggest fear was complacency.
Mr Swann also touched on the risks faced by teachers and kids as they prepare to go back to school.
He said he believed the emotional impact of lockdown had children had been huge.
“At that age, it is (about) social interaction,” the minister said.
“It’s not so much about what they learn in the classroom, it is that interaction with friends.
“We have a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old and I can see it starting.
“Zoom calls with friends are now starting to last longer. ‘In the background you can hear, ‘I miss you’. It’s hard as a father to hear that.
“I think there are children out there looking to get back to their friends, especially those at critical ages.”