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Northern Ireland’s First Minister and Deputy First Minister have pressed Boris Johnson for more financial support to deal with the expected surge of Omicron cases.
Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill spoke to the Prime Minister on Friday, setting out the financial pressure the local economy will be facing when Omicron becomes the dominant strain.
Public health officials have warned that in a worst-case scenario Northern Ireland could be recording around 11,000 Covid cases a day in the middle of next month if no further restrictions are introduced.
Stormont ministers will meet next Wednesday to consider potential new coronavirus restrictions.
Mr Givan said he had given the Prime Minister an update on the Covid situation in Northern Ireland.
“I’ve been able to speak with the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and give him an update in respect of what’s happening in Northern Ireland around Covid,” he said.
“During the discussion, there were a number of issues that were raised about having greater co-operation and working together.
“So it’s likely another meeting of Cobra will be called over the weekend and there we can share important information around the prevalence of the virus across the United Kingdom, the potential pressures that could come on our health service, and that will all assist us here in Northern Ireland in the considerations that we need to make as an Executive.
“I also pressed the need for greater support from the Treasury because it is vital that those businesses that have already been impacted by the decisions that people have taken to reduce their own social contacts are given support, and that’s an issue that we’ll continue to make representation on to the Government.”
Omicron is hugely challenging and impacting on lives and livelihoods. Just spoke with Boris Johnson. Strongly made the case for the Executive to have access to urgent additional finances to support workers, families and our local economy.
— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) December 17, 2021
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she made the case for the Stormont Executive to have “urgent additional finances to support workers, families and our local economy”.
Speaking to media in Cookstown, she said the Executive’s health and scientific advisers were “working round the clock” to understand the impact of the Omicron variant, including the hospital admission rate.
“It’s not clear yet in terms of what that will mean,” she said.
“There is no doubt that it will bring pressure, we need to understand more of that.
“Health and science will give us more advice at the start of the week and then we’ll come back to what else we may need to do in the coming weeks.”
She said the Executive had been focused on ramping up the roll-out of the booster jab and also securing more funding.
“It’s very clear to me that if we’re going to intervene and we’re forced to intervene to get us through this period then we have to back that up with money to support workers and families.
“Our local economy is going to be under huge pressure after two years of very difficult and trying times from many sectors,” she said.
“I have just come from a call with Boris Johnson. I have made it very, very clear that the current situation is leaving the Executive high and dry, and tying our hands in a lot of ways in terms of what an intervention could look like because we don’t have the ability to access finances.”
Meanwhile, the head of Northern Ireland’s vaccination programme has said that 104,933 boosters have been reported on the vaccination dashboard in the past five days.
Patricia Donnelly said: “GPs, pharmacists and health trusts are all working flat out on the emergency escalation of the booster programme.
“We are all hugely encouraged by the numbers of people continuing to come forward. Every effort is being made to keep waits to a minimum and to further increase the programme’s capacity.
“Our official total for boosters and third doses administered now stands at 639,357.
“I expect that to grow substantially in the coming days.”
A further three patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 have died in Northern Ireland.
Another 1,887 confirmed cases of the virus were also notified by the Department of Health on Friday.
On Friday morning there were 312 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 34 were in intensive care.