Police seek to ensure officers are protected from Covid-19

By Rebecca Black, PA

A top PSNI officer has said work is under way to ensure staff are protected from Covid-19 infection.

The Police Federation earlier called for officers in Northern Ireland to be tested for Covid-19 amid fears the spread of the virus could result in a “skeleton” workforce.

The representative body for Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers has also called for personal protection equipment to be made available for officers, including masks, gloves and scenes-of-crime white suits, as well as “spit and bite guards”.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd responded, saying work is under way to ensure officers are protected.

“I want to reassure everyone we are working with our health partner agencies to prepare and protect our officers, and to make sure they can continue to do their job as safely as possible, protecting themselves and the people they need to help,” he said.

“We are doing this by having a full range of business continuity plans to protect and maintain essential services and protect our officers.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd (PA)

“We continue to work with our partners to ensure we have in place proportionate, appropriate and efficient procedures to address and respond to any challenges presented to the Police Service by Covid-19.”

Mr Todd added: “These are extremely difficult times for the police service and for our partner organisations in what is a global emergency.

“There is no doubt that we will face challenging and difficult times with staff absences as our officers and staff strive to deal with the same uncertainty and issues affecting everyone in Northern Ireland.

“However, despite this and all the challenges Covid-19 presents, the priority for us is to keep people safe and protect communities. That is the reality.”

Police Federation chairman Mark Lindsay also stressed the importance of testing for PSNI officers, saying it will allow many more to remain at work.

There are currently around 200 coronavirus tests being conducted each day in the region. Only people being admitted to hospital and those in care settings are being routinely tested.

Plans were announced on Thursday to increase that number to 800 within the next 10 days and also to widen the scope of the testing to cover certain groups of healthcare workers.

Mr Lindsay warned: “We are not as well-resourced as other parts of the UK. We do not have cadets. We do not have access to military, so, we are very much left on our own.

“It is therefore imperative that testing for police officers is brought in without any further delay. This will increase workforce resilience and will be a major factor in ensuring that our officers can remain at work.

“We could be left with a skeleton workforce trying to enforce legislation, trying to keep the lid on normal crime trends. It is very difficult to predict but I can assure the public that we will do our best. That’s what we are here for.”

Earlier this month, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne told the Northern Ireland Policing Board that contingency plans are in place if high numbers of his officers are struck down by coronavirus.

These would include 12-hour shifts and cancelled rest days, he added.

On Thursday, Mr Byrne briefed the board on the latest response planning, and pledged to “keep people safe and serve the community during this challenging time”.