Northern Ireland news

Visits to hospital medical wards will stop in new measure announced by health minister

Health Minister Robin Swann

VISITS to hospital medical wards will stop from Friday in a new measure announced by health minister Robin Swann to curb the spread of coronavirus adding "some further challenging decisions" may have to be made by early February.

Speaking at the Executive press conference, Mr Swann said the revised visiting guidance would be kept under review "as we face into this vicious storm".

Visits will however still be permitted to hospices and care home.

It comes as it was also revealed that a new nasal swab test, which gives results within 12 minutes, is to be used by emergency departments from next week.

Mr Swann said a pilot programme has been carried out using the LumiraDX nasal swab.

The UUP minister also said that lockdown in Northern Ireland was producing results, with the number of cases coming down, but added "the challenge is to keep it there".

He said restrictions will be kept under review by the Executive and ministers "may well have some further challenging decisions to make by early February".

Mr Swann also revealed that more than 100,000 coronavirus vaccinations have been administered across the north.

"By close of play yesterday (Tuesday), 109,259 doses had been administered, with 91,419 people having received their first dose," he said.

"458 out of 483 (95 per cent) of our care homes have received their first dose, and 67 per cent their second.

"With our GP-led vaccinations barely off the starting blocks, already close to 20 per cent of our over-80s have received a jab.

"The programme will be scaled up rapidly as supplies allow, and I have to emphasise again that availability of supplies is the key limiting factor at present, not locations or staffing or operating hours.

"Supplies are limited."

Stormont's chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young told the briefing that the average number of new cases of coronavirus had risen to an average of more than 2,000 a day.

He said while the number of cases is falling, they remain at a "very high level".

"And even now as we see the numbers, falling, getting lower, they remain at a higher level than at any time in wave one or wave two of this epidemic," he said adding there was "still have a long way to go."

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride also urged people to "stay the course" and said even when there is further roll-out of the vaccine, people need to remain vigilant.

"It can’t be a free for all, party time or time to throw caution to the wind," he said.

Dr McBride said there was "no doubt" that levels of the new, more transmissible variant of coronavirus were rising and "twice as difficult" to contain.

The new variant is said to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible.

He also warned that the virus won't "magically disappear" on February 6, when the current lockdown is due to end.

"There may well be very difficult decisions in the weeks ahead," he said.

Dr McBride also said "difficult decisions have had to be made" after it emerged that organs from deceased donors have been regularly turned down instead of being used for life-saving transplantation due to Covid-19.

He apologised and said high levels of community transmission of the virus had been a factor.

"We need to bear in mind that, for those individuals who are highly sensitised, it is difficult to find matches," he said.

"The deceased kidney donor programme is proceeding but that is not the case in terms of the live donor programme."

Meanwhile, Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill also said yesterday that the north was in "a desperate situation" regarding the coronavirus pandemic.

"It looks like we’re on the other side of the peak in terms of the number of cases, but we haven’t reached the peak in terms of hospital admissions," she told a Executive office committee meeting.

First minister Arlene Foster also said "the pressure on our health service is immense".

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