Northern Ireland news

GP calls for curfew and driving ban to fight Covid-19

A woman reads a 'Stop and Think' sign on the door of Salisbury Medical Centre in north Belfast yesterday. Picture by Hugh Russell
Seanín Graham

A leading GP has called for a curfew to be imposed to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Dr George O'Neill also said driving should be restricted to essential trips only - such as medical emergencies, collecting prescriptions and shopping for essential food - as he criticised the "high volumes" of traffic on the north's roads.

His comments followed a plea by GP colleagues in Belfast through an open letter, calling for a "complete lockdown" as the health system prepares for a massive surge in cases in coming weeks.

They warned that "time is of the essence" and the current government advice on social distancing is "not stringent enough".

Spain, Italy and France are among European countries where states of emergency have been declared with severe restrictions on movement.

Saudi Arabia announced earlier this week that it would start imposing a curfew between 7pm and 6am for 21 days to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

On Monday, the Cayman Islands announced its residents must stay in their homes between 9pm and 5am unless they had written authorisation from police - breaking the curfew could mean a fine of up to 3,000 dollars or a year in prison.

Dr O'Neill said "severe restrictions" on movement and travel must be introduced to limit the spread of such a highly contagious virus.

He also called for public parks to be locked and urged people to "exercise in a garden" or "jump up and down on their porch".

"I have seen traffic jams over the past few days - we need fewer cars on our roads and people to remain indoors," he said.

"Complete lockdown is the only answer if we are to have any success in tackling this disease - there will be doubling of cases on average every five days if no measures are taken."

The GPs' open letter, which represents doctors from 80 practices with 420,000 patients on their books, states their "dismay" at the actions of "many members of the public" at a time when efforts are being made to halt the spread of a disease which has "catastrophic effects in the short term for a large number of patients".

"We call on our political leaders to hear and act on our heartfelt plea and move to adopt a ‘complete lockdown' as we have seen in other countries, at the earliest opportunity."

The chairs of the north, south, east and west Belfast GP Federations said they had watched with alarm the effects of Covid-19 on other countries in Europe and in China.

"Whilst circumstances cannot be directly compared with these other countries, we should be proceeding with extreme caution. We argue that it would be better to be extremely cautious and wrong than wrong and incautious."

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