Northern Ireland

Robin Swann says the 'scales are tipping' in favour of easing lockdown restrictions

Health Minister Robin Swann sounded some notes of caution. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire
Health Minister Robin Swann sounded some notes of caution. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

STORMONT's health minister has said the "scales are tipping" in favour of accelerating the process of relaxing lockdown restrictions.

Robin Swann was speaking ahead of today's meeting of the Stormont executive, when ministers will formally review the coronavirus regulations.

Mr Swann said there has been one more death of a patient who previously tested positive for the virus, while 97 more infections were reported yesterday.

There were 70 Covid-positive patients in hospital yesterday morning, eight of whom were in intensive care.

Speaking at a press conference, Mr Swann said he believed that the "time is now right" to proceed with further easing of restrictions, including some indicative dates.

Referring to frustration with the lockdown which has been in place since December, the Ulster Unionist said "Covid fatigue risks itself mutating into Covid despair".

He said he wanted people to have more opportunities to meet up with family and friends outdoors in as safe a way as possible.

"It should also mean getting the hairdressers and barbers back to work, as should it mean more businesses opening and considering even people getting back to their caravans earlier than we would have thought feasible only a short time ago," he said.

"I can confirm that my department has now fed into the central process and whilst I will not pre-empt any decisions ahead of tomorrow's Executive, I do hope the agreed review will show clear signs of positivity after it."

Mr Swann also sounded some notes of caution.

He said easing any lockdown measure inevitably comes with some risks, and as people mix more the virus will spread more.

"That's how serious this still is. Against that, of course, we also cannot stay in lockdown forever. That would be catastrophic for our society, not least in terms of our physical and mental wellbeing," he said.

"We have to remain careful and vigilant. We have to do our best to strike the correct balance.

"We now have the Covid vaccines as our additional line of defence. It is essential that we maintain our momentum with the vaccination programme.

"Vaccines are our best defence and shield against Covid."

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride warned the public that although the current lockdown is in the process of being relaxed, social distancing and Covid-19 hygiene measures were still needed to prevent a further surge.

"As restrictions ease, adherence to the advice and rules has never been more important," he said.

"There are a range of possible outcomes in the weeks and months ahead and where we end up depends on the decisions we make."

Gradual steps out lockdown have continued this week with the remainder of post-primary students, years eight to 11, returned to schools while a limited number of outdoor-focused retail outlets, such as garden centres and car dealerships, reopened.

The "stay-at-home" messaging was also replaced with "stay local" advice.