Northern Ireland news

Chief medical officer warns of worst Covid wave

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

THE chief medical officer has warned that any rush out of lockdown could prompt the worst wave of Covid-19 yet. Dr Michael McBride gave his stark assessment as the first cases of the virus’s South African variant were detected with three cases confirmed.

Health Minister Robin Swann said that although the risk of transmission was judged as low, it underlined the “very real need for continuing caution”.

The taoiseach has said the Republic’s Level 5 restrictions will remain in place until April 5, although a phased reopening of schools will start next week.

It could, however, signal a return for inter-county Gaelic football across the island if elite sport is given the go-ahead.

Micheál Martin said that if downward pressure on the virus can be maintained, the state can move into the next phase.

Ian Knox cartoon 24/2/21

Areas the government would examine for easing restrictions include some sporting activities and the 5km limit on non-essential travel.

Five Covid-19-linked deaths were recorded in the north yesterday with 225 more people testing positive for the virus in the past day.

In the Republic 45 deaths and 575 new cases were recorded. Dr McBride has insisted he is not at odds with other UK CMOs on his approach to schools reopening. Education Minister Peter Weir said there appeared to be a “contradiction” between Dr McBride’s advice and England’s CMO.

Dr McBride defended his advocacy of a phased return to school and warned that a rush out of lockdown could trigger the worst wave of Covid yet.

“There is a significant risk at this point in time if we move back... too quickly or too rapidly that we will see a resurgence in cases that could result in a further wave of infection which could be even greater than the numbers we saw back in January,” he said.

He said his advice to the Stormont executive had not changed since last week.

Ministers unanimously backed a plan to bring some primary pupils back on March 8, with some secondary schoolchildren returning to class two weeks later. Dr McBride remains of the view that schools should return in a “stepwise process”.

On Monday night First Minister Arlene Foster said she wanted to revisit that decision. Her remarks came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced English schools’ full return on March 8. Sinn Féin accused Mrs Foster of making up policy on the hoof.

Yesterday Mr Weir said he believed there was a “strong case” for all pupils to return to classrooms by March 8.

He said he believed health officials at Stormont had been “over-cautious”.

The executive will meet tomorrow to discuss its “pathway-to-recovery” blueprint.

Read more: Arlene Foster 'being led by Boris Johnson, not science,' over re-opening of schools

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