Northern Ireland news

Covid restrictions 'highly unlikely' to ease after six-week lockdown, says Robin Swann

Robin Swann said there are still "massive numbers" of Covid patients in hospital

Health Minister Robin Swann has said it is "highly unlikely" that coronavirus restrictions will be eased at the end of the six-week lockdown on February 6.

He said the R-number has dropped from 1.8 immediately after Christmas to 0.7 this week.

"We're still looking at 1,000 positive cases, on average, per day. Those are high numbers," he told the BBC.

"We're still looking at massive numbers in our hospitals, over 840 people still in hospital. We are in the middle of our six-week lockdown, we said we'd review where we are on January 21, as to what steps we will take on February 6.

"R is coming down but it is coming down from a very high level of number of cases so that decrease has to be maintained for a long period of time, for I would say, another two to three weeks before we can get those numbers of positive cases, before we can get the number of hospital admissions down so that we can really see the pressure starting to come off our hospitals and our health service.

"It will be highly unlikely that we will see any great easement of where we currently are. These conversations are being had by many governments across these islands, across the world, as to what steps we can take."

Today the chief medical officers in Northern Ireland and the Republic issued a joint plea to the public to stay at home amid high levels of Covid-19 across the island.

"As CMOs, we are gravely concerned about the unsustainably high level of Covid-19 infection we are experiencing on the island of Ireland," Dr Michael McBride and Dr Tony Holohan said.

The warning came as the Department of Health revealed another 26 people have died after contracting Covid-19.

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Northern Ireland news