Northern Ireland news

Possible birthday party link to Covid clusters at Craigavon hospital

Craigavon Area Hospital. Picture by Mal McCann
Seanín Graham

A birthday party at a restaurant attended by nurses is being investigated as a possible link to coronavirus clusters in one of Northern Ireland's busiest hospitals.

The Irish News understands that a probe into the Covid-19 outbreak at Craigavon Area Hospital has discovered some staff who tested positive were at the Co Armagh celebration.

Contact tracing is underway after three A&E staff contracted the virus, while a separate cluster on a haematology ward resulted in 10 confirmed cases among vulnerable patients with blood disorders and a further eight staff.

Sources say the party took place in the past fortnight.

When asked to comment on the possible link, a spokesman for the Southern health trust said only that a "detailed investigation is ongoing".

He also stressed the importance of staff following Covid regulations both in the hospital and social settings.

"We continue to work closely with the Public Health Agency to manage the situation," he said.

"The safety of patients, staff and wider contacts remains our priority and it is vital that our staff help stop coronavirus spreading by following all the rules and regulations at all times - whilst at work and outside of work."

It has emerged that frontline nurses have expressed concerns about social distancing in the hospital, with some forced to eat lunch in cars with colleagues due to the closure of the canteen.

Others have questioned the style of the investigation and said they felt "interrogated".

The trust spokesman confirmed the canteen has recently reopened and that 'break-out' spaces - marquees were set up for staff meal breaks - were "already in place for all staff to use".

No updates were available on further confirmed cases.

Almost 150 members of the hospital's Emergency Department staff have been swabbed for coronavirus, with all testing negative.

The A&E cluster resulted in 21 staff being sent home to self-isolate.

One of the three workers who tested positive covered a shift in a trauma operating theatre which resulted in a further seven theatre staff quarantining as a precaution.

Due to staff shortages, an orthopaedic surgery list has been cancelled tomorrow to provide cover.

The development comes following a Covid spike in nearby Lurgan, leading to the closure of three gyms, two GAA clubs and a soccer club.

A popular chip shop in the Co Armagh town was the latest to temporarily close.

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