Northern Ireland news

Michelle O'Neill says Covid-19 intervention needed as Executive set to meet over healthcare crisis

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said said she intends to make the "right decision" around coronavirus restrictions, and "not the popular one"

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill has said there is "no doubt" that an intervention is required to gain control over the spread of coronavirus.

Ms O'Neill said the Executive will discuss the timing of an intervention when ministers meet tomorrow.

The Stormont executive has resisted growing pressure to scrap the easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas amid warnings the move could overwhelm the NHS and contribute to the loss of "many lives".

Health Minister Robin Swann is due to bring proposals for further Covid-19 restrictions to the Executive.

Ms O'Neill said she intends to make the "right decision" around coronavirus restrictions, and "not the popular one".

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"Christmas will be here next year also, it is a very difficult time, it is a very difficult decision to make as political leaders, sometimes you have to do the right thing, not the popular thing and in my mind what we need to do is whatever is right to keep people safe and to save lives," she said.

"I am up for doing whatever is required, so I'll work with Executive colleagues tomorrow to try and arrive at a position that actually delivers that."

First Minister Arlene Foster said she did not expect Mr Swann to be recommending that new measures be introduced before Christmas.

"I don't think he will be proposing closing down before Christmas but we will of course look to see what Robin and his team of advisers have to say to us, I don't want to prejudge what he is going to say to us tomorrow but we are in a serious situation," she said.

"Unfortunately the last two weeks don't appear to have brought the R number down below 1, there is a diminishing return in terms of restrictions, people are out and about now and so there is a very great need for people to have personal responsibility.

"I am not going to prejudge what the minister is going to bring to us but undoubtedly we will have something to say tomorrow and over the next few days."

Ms O'Neill also urged people to follow the public health advice, and asked they limit their movements ahead of Christmas gatherings.

Asked if the Executive had eased circuit-breaker restrictions too soon, Ms O'Neill said: "We followed the public health advice the whole way through, I wouldn't have done anything unless it was supported by the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser and that will be the position again tomorrow.

"But I would make a strong case that we clearly need an intervention, it's the timing of when that can be most effective that we need to consider, but I don't think there is any doubt that an intervention is required."

Mrs Foster and Ms O'Neill both expressed concern at pressures on the health service.

Hospital capacity across the north stood at 105 per cent today.

At one point yesterday outside Antrim Area Hospital, 17 ambulances containing patients were lined up outside the ED and doctors were treating patients in the car park.

"It's not where we want to be, and of course we always have winter pressures this time of the year, but Covid-19 has exacerbated that," Mrs Foster said.

Ms O'Neill added: "it is totally unacceptable that people are being cared for in the back of ambulances but that shows you our health service is under huge pressure so it is very clear to me that what we need is to have an intervention, what that looks like we will discuss at the Executive tomorrow."

The two leaders spoke to media separately during a visit to Newry on Wednesday to support the Black Santa appeal.

John Dalzell (79) stages a sit out in the city centre every Christmas to raise money for the Southern Area Hospice.

Today the Department of Health dashboard indicated that a further eight people with Covid-19 had died, bringing the north's toll to 1,143.

Another 510 new cases of the virus were also recorded.

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