Northern Ireland news

Retired doctors and nurses to join student medics on frontline as pubs shut to stop coronavirus spread

Customers having tea and coffee on the Promenade in Portstewart, Co Derry on Friday evening. Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the closure of all cafes, clubs, bars and gyms by midnight to fight coronavirus. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

PUBS, cafes, nightclubs, bars, restaurants, theatres, leisure centres and gyms have been ordered to close to fight the spread of coronavirus.

British prime minister Boris Johnson said the new restrictions would come into force from last night.

The move comes as the government's scientific advisors warned that social distancing will be needed for "at least half of the year" to stop intensive care units being overwhelmed.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies recommends alternating between more and less strict measures for the rest of 2020.

Amid criticism over a lack of widespread testing in Northern Ireland, it is understood that an out-of-hours doctors site opposite Belfast's Mater Hospital is among locations being considered for an expansion to around 800 Covid-19 tests per day.

Health minister Robin Swann has come under pressure to ramp up testing to levels in the Republic - something he has resisted, citing differences in the disease progression in the two jurisdictions.

A former regional director of public health in England, Gabriel Scally, publicly admonished him on social media, writing on Twitter: "Ridiculous assertion on BBC from N Ireland minister @RobinSwannMoH the RoI has worse Covid-19 position than N Ireland. The south has more cases. But that's because they have 32 community based testing stations. The north has ZERO and stopped testing in communities last week."

As the north prepares for a Covid-19 "surge", the Department of Health announced "a concerted push" to recruit former health professionals back into the workforce "across the full range of disciplines".

It is hoping to bring more than 5,000 back to a health service already planning to deploy medical, social work and nursing students.

Physiotherapists, radiographers, occupational therapists, nurses and midwives who gave up their registration within the last three years will be invited onto an "emergency register under emergency provisions".

The GMC has written to more than 500 doctors who have given up their licence to practice to warn they plan to "rejoin them provisionally onto the register under emergency provisions in the Medical Act".

Nursing and midwifery students within the last six months of qualifying will be redeployed to clinical care "imminently", with plans for second year nursing, midwifery and AHP students "to play their part in this emergency situation".

This could bring in almost 2,000 extra medics.

Final year medical students about to complete their degree at QUB will be able to join the provisional medical register five months early.

The trusts are also "urgently investigating" bringing back on a voluntary basis around 500 third and fourth year medical students, who have left clinical placements in a new "temporary medical student technician" role.

Recently retired pharmacists are also being asked to return.

The plans were unveiled as updated figures revealed nine new confirmed cases in Northern Ireland, bringing the overall tally to 86.

In the Republic, there were 126 new confirmed cases, with its total now 683.

All prison visits in Northern Ireland will be suspended from Monday.

Director general Ronnie Armour said while "under normal circumstances visits would be one of the last areas to be suspended as family contact is at the centre of prison life... we are living in extraordinary times and what at one time would have been unthinkable, is this week's reality".

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