No further Covid-19 restrictions following Stormont Executive meeting

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  • Paul Givan
    British politician (born 1981)
Ministers were shown Department of Health modelling data (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)
Ministers were shown Department of Health modelling data (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

No further Covid-19 restrictions are set to be imposed in Northern Ireland at this stage, Paul Givan has said.

The First Minister was speaking following a virtual meeting of the Stormont Executive on Thursday.

He said ministers agreed that no further restrictions should be introduced at this time.

The Executive will continue to assess the data as more information emerges, Mr Givan added in a tweet after the meeting.

On Thursday afternoon the deaths of three further patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19, and another 4,701 cases of the virus, were confirmed.

On the same day there were 303 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 32 were in intensive care.

Ministers also agreed to a proposal by Health Minister Robin Swann to reduce the self-isolation period for confirmed Covid-19 cases from ten to seven days subject to a negative lateral flow test on day six and a second negative test taken at least 24 hours later on day seven.

This change is expected to take place from Friday.

Ministers are to meet again on January 6.

Mr Givan said the approach is the right one at this time.

We're clearly in a very difficult period and the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly throughout the community

Michelle O'Neill

“This recognises that Omicron is now the dominant strain in Northern Ireland with over 90% of all new cases, and it is more transmissible, having a detrimental impact on the availability of staff within public and private sector organisations,” he said.

“It is critical that we can continue to deliver those key services to the public and this new policy is the right approach at this time.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill urged people to follow public health advice to minimise the spread of the virus.

“We’re clearly in a very difficult period and the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly throughout the community, and it now accounts for more than 90% of all of our Covid cases here,” she said.

“We know that this variant is highly transmissible so it’s really, really important that everyone takes steps to minimise the risk of transmission, so please take up the booster if you haven’t already, limit your contacts with other people, if you’re meeting up with others take a lateral flow test before you go, meet outdoors if you can, work from home if possible and wear your face coverings.

“We’ll continue to monitor the situation and we’re going to keep an eye on it very very closely and we will keep the public updated as more information emerges.”

On Thursday ministers heard that the Omicron variant was estimated to be accounting for 90% of cases in the region.

Department of Health modelling data seen by the PA news agency, which was presented to ministers, indicated that while the Delta variant was expected to gradually decline, a “more modest Delta epidemic” could persist in parallel with a larger Omicron outbreak.

It set out that a peak in numbers would occur in early to mid-January/early February, with hospital admissions and occupancy peaking in late January/early February.

The extent of the peak would depend on the severity of illness with Omicron.

Officials were said to be closely monitoring data emerging from Northern Ireland, as well as the experience in England and Scotland.

Ministers were told that if Omicron was associated with illness as severe as Delta, “significant intervention” would be required to keep hospital inpatient numbers at less than 1,000.

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

But if the severity of Omicron was substantially reduced from that seen with Delta, close to an 80% reduction, current measures could be sufficient.

Ministers also discussed the demand for PCR tests and in a joint statement following the Executive meeting urged the public to follow the latest guidance and only book a PCR test if necessary, in the case of symptoms.

They said there were sufficient lateral flow tests in Northern Ireland, with community pharmacies and other collection sites being replenished regularly.

“The levels of Covid-19 circulating in the community are at the highest rate they have ever been, and it is vitally important that anyone with symptoms isolates immediately and books a PCR test,” ministers said.

“Booking slots are made available at stages throughout the day and people are encouraged to retry should they not get a test slot immediately.

“You should continue to isolate until you have received the results of your test. If the test is positive, you must complete your isolation period.”

The latest restrictions, which came into effect on Monday, include table service only in bars and restaurants, two-metre social distancing in offices, the closure of nightclubs and a ban on dancing at hospitality venues, with the exception of weddings.

Under the new measures, people are also being asked to limit their social contacts, with the public being advised that only three households should mix together in a private home.

Last week, ministers agreed a £40 million grant scheme to support hospitality businesses affected by the latest Covid-19 restrictions.

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