Northern Ireland news

Executive scheduled to meet as health minister warns of further restrictions ahead of Christmas

Robin Swann said more Covid restrictions were likely between now and Christmas

ROBIN Swann will bring today fresh proposals for managing coronavirus to the executive one week on from the acrimonious meeting that saw the DUP push through a series of watered down restrictions at the eleventh hour.

The health minister yesterday warned that more containment measures will likely be required in the five weeks between now and Christmas to avoid the health service being overwhelmed.

The latest figures from the Department of Health last night showed an occupancy rate of 102 per cent in hospitals across the north.

Chief Scientific Officer Professor Ian Young said that past five weeks of restrictions had seen the R rate drop to 0.8 for a fortnight but that the figure had risen in recent days to "around one".

He said the reduction in cases and its impact on hospital bed occupancy was less than hoped for.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said the restrictions currently in place were having an impact but that the R rate was not slowing "enough nor sufficient to get us through the challenges of the next few months".

Mr Swann said the proposals he is set to share with executive colleagues today would "get us through the difficult weeks ahead".

He said the paper included some restrictions and initiatives, and that he hoped ministers could reach a consensus.

"Those of us in political leadership have a critical responsibility to take the right decisions – it's tough because all of us around the executive table are taking the decisions," he said.

"I will be bringing a paper to tomorrow's executive... detailing a range of options and initiatives to get us through the difficult weeks ahead – it can help us achieve a better Christmas season as we look forward to a much better new year."

Ahead of the health minister's press conference First Minister Arlene Foster, whose party faced widespread criticism last week for vetoing the health minister's plan, said it was time for the executive to "step back".

The DUP leader said some ministers had been "preparing the ground" in an effort to avoid the late decision-making of last Thursday's meeting.

"We're all adults - we recognise last week was not good for the executive," she told the BBC.

"I hope we will have a press conference tomorrow… it is our desire to communicate with the public as much as we can."

Mrs Foster said she would study the detail of Mr Swann's proposals, coupled with other data, ahead of deciding the way forward.

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