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Local Lockdowns

Stormont Executive to consider renewed Covid-19 restrictions for Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s Minister for Health said that measures may be taken on localised or region-wide scales.

STORMONT’S HEALTH MINISTER has warned that Covid-19 is on the advance again in Northern Ireland.

Minister Robin Swann said he was now as worried about the virus as he had been in some time.

“We are in danger of sliding down a very slippery and treacherous slope,” he told a Stormont media briefing.

Swann said the Stormont Executive would consider some renewed coronavirus restrictions on Thursday.

He said these could include localised measures or region-wide steps.

“The time is coming for the Executive to consider fresh and concrete actions to prevent the further spread of the virus.”

Stormont’s chief medical adviser Professor Ian Young said there had been a strong and striking increase in Covid-19 transmission since the beginning of July.

“That is something which, if it continues, would cause significant problems for us in the next months,” he said.

Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said complacency had set in among some people.

“For some, complacency has no doubt set in and there is a belief that the virus was not as bad as we previously thought,” he said.

Dr McBride said the flu vaccine programme was being significantly expanded in Northern Ireland, warning of the increased threat to life if people contracted both flu and Covid-19 at the same time.

Dr McBride said he and Professor Young would not hesitate to recommend to ministers new localised or general restrictions in Northern Ireland.

He outlined to the committee what sort of measures may be needed, saying that most involved “close indoor social contacts”.

“That might include us looking at restrictions on the number of individuals gathering in family meetings indoors, the number of households coming together, it may require us to look at the number of people who are gathering outdoors, for instance for family events,” he said.

“We also may need to look at transport and shared transport, individuals travelling in shared vehicles, cars, etc.

“And, if indeed we see particular clusters or outbreaks that are related to particular establishments, particularly in the hospitality or service sector in terms of pubs and restaurants, those also may be things that we need to look at.”

Dr McBride said no particular pattern had emerged that helped isolate the causes of the recent upsurge in cases.

“It seems to be a general increase that we’re seeing and that is troubling.”

“But we will start with making recommendations about those things that are likely have the greatest impact.”

Swann said that any localised lockdowns in Northern Ireland would cover council district areas.

He said he did not believe “reckless behaviour” was to blame for the increase in cases, instead pointing to “complacency and fatigue” among the public.

Swann rejected the suggestion that the region had emerged from lockdown too early.

He said a rise in cases was always expected when restrictions eased.

The minister said the Executive had wanted to retain the reproductive number of coronavirus at or below 1.2 as measures eased, but that the rate had now risen above that target.

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