Northern Ireland news

Michelle O'Neill: 'Covid completely floored me'

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill: `Covid-19 was a scary experience. I can't even imagine going through it without the protection afforded to me by being fully vaccinated.' Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Three weeks ago I tested positive for Covid-19. It completely floored me. Thankfully, I had both vaccinations; something I am immensely grateful for.

I had avoided developing Covid for 18 months, despite some of my family at home contracting it previously.

It was a scary experience. I can't even imagine going through it without the protection afforded to me by being fully vaccinated. I was fortunate that, despite the effects of the virus, I was able to care for myself at home and didn't require hospitalisation. Many others aren't so fortunate.

I always thought the vaccine would be my best chance of getting through COVID 19 if I were to contract it. Now I know just how important it was for me, and my family. The benefits speak for themselves and it is not lost on me just how lucky I was.

In fact, we are all lucky. Because we have all been given the chance of vaccination. And that means the chance to protect ourselves from the worst effects of COVID; to protect the people we love; to keep pressure off our hospitals; and help prevent our society shutting down.

Today I make a full return to my official duties having eased myself back in.

I am no different to everyone else who is wondering what the winter will bring. There is one thing for sure in the period ahead and that is, regrettably, we are facing an uncertain trajectory.

From the start of the pandemic we have all had a rollercoaster of experiences and feelings.

Communities have experienced isolation, limited access to education, and reduced income and security. They have struggled with the implementation and consequences of public health and social measures designed to limit transmission and save lives. They have faced fear of infection, financial worries, and significantly reduced access to normal health services.

Our healthcare staff have faced all of that whilst continuing to carry out their duties, caring for us and our families.

Healthcare systems and workers have saved countless lives but are under extreme pressure. Ensuring continuity of essential health services and building resilient health systems remains vital in the time ahead.

We clapped weekly for our healthcare staff to show them our appreciation for their bravery and for their efforts. This winter they will need more than our applause. They will need us all to up our game in trying to suppress transmission of the virus and the knock-on effect that the infection level has on the healthcare system.

They are relying on us all as individuals to make good decisions. To be outdoors rather than indoors; if indoors to be in a ventilated room; and to take the vaccines.

We have to plan for the months ahead. Our approach, first and foremost, should be preventative.

We all need to make every effort to ensure we don’t have to bring in the toughest of restrictions again.

None of us want lockdowns or circuit breakers. We have to work to try avoid that. However, I do agree with Alan Stout from the BMA that we must be honest with the public in that we have to be prepared to do what is necessary at any given point.

Unfortunately there are many people who haven’t taken up the vaccine, including significant numbers in the 18-39 age group. The truth is that even those who are prepared to take their chances with COVID 19 will feel the impact if it is necessary to implement more restrictions. So if you haven’t got around to getting the vaccine, now is the time.

We all hoped we would be on more certain footing by now. But pandemics, as we have learned, are unpredictable.

The positive is that we know much more about this virus than we did at the start of the pandemic. Advances have been made in treatment and we do have safe and effective vaccines. We must learn from the last 18 months. We need to protect ourselves, our health services and each other.

We need to continue to fight this together.

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