Northern Ireland news

Health chiefs warn Covid-19 'here for the long-term and remains highly infectious'

Watching the Crossmaglen/Silverbridge GAA game. Face masks are mandatory in shops in the north from today. Picture by Hugh Russell

NORTHERN Ireland's most senior health officials have insisted working together is the only option to stop a winter coronavirus peak, as they warn "carelessness and complacency may be creeping in."

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride and Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Ian Young said increases in confirmed Covid-19 cases and the `R' number have "caused deep concern" and "underline the stark reality that the coronavirus is not fading away".

"It is here for the long-term and remains highly infectious," they said in a joint statement.

The R number in Northern Ireland has been estimated to be between 0.8 and 1.8.

The health chiefs said during the pandemic "great sacrifices have been made and many lives have been saved as a result, but there have been worrying signs that fatigue has led to carelessness and that some complacency might be creeping in".

"We remain deeply concerned that Covid-19 cases could peak sharply here in the autumn or winter. Whether this happens or not is up to us all. The virus doesn't have a plan - its spread depends on our actions."

They warned the health service is "especially fragile during winter".

"This remains a vicious virus which can be lethal for many and we need to protect them... There is no easy way to get through this unprecedented period in our lives, no simple solution to the challenges we face.

"... We have no option but to work together and take all the necessary steps to stay safe."

Meanwhile, the Republic's health minister Stephen Donnelly said he is preparing proposals to restrict non-essential travel from countries outside the UK and EU due to high rates of coronavirus in some places.

Mr Donnolly said, while the number of travel-related cases remains small, the risk is increasing.

The news comes after as Kildare, Laois and Offaly face extended lockdown restrictions following a spike in cases.

O'Brien's Fine Foods meat processing plant at Timahoe in Co Kildare, where 87 workers tested positive for coronavirus, will remain closed for two weeks.

It said further programmes of employee testing are planned and said the level of asymptomatic infectivity "appears to be very high".

One further death with Covid-19 in Ireland and 174 new cases were reported in the Republic yesterday - 110 in Kildare.

Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said the figures were "high, but not unexpected" and with an increase in testing expects "significant numbers of cases to be reported over the coming days".

However, Professor Philip Nolan of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group said the incidence in Kildare, Laois and Offaly are "worryingly high".

In the north, retailers have urged the public to respect new rules that face coverings must be worn in all public enclosed spaces as enforcement begins today.

Breaches of the new rule can result in a fixed penalty notice of £60 which will be reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days.

Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said "we would urge everyone who can wear face coverings to abide by the law and do so".

"This is not just about a legal responsibility - it's about protecting each other. Please wear one - and encourage your family, friends and colleagues to do likewise. Everyone has a role to play in ensuring compliance."

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Northern Ireland news