Northern Ireland news

Nightclubs to reopen but Covid expert urges caution while BMA calls it 'complete madness'

The Stormont Executive said face coverings will not be compulsory in venues
Paul Ainsworth and PA

A LEADING virologist has urged caution as ministers agreed nightclubs will reopen on October 31.

Despite growing numbers of Covid among younger age groups and the emergence of a new delta variant, revellers will not be required to wear masks.

Dr Lindsay Broadbent said the high case rates show a need to be cautious.

The Executive clarified that face coverings will not be compulsory in venues while social distancing for bars and restaurants will also shift from regulation to guidance.

At yesterday’s Executive meeting ministers were told that community transmission in the north is “roughly constant at a high level”.

Belfast-based virologist Dr Lindsay Broadbent has urged caution as the hospitality sector prepares to fully reopen.

However, Dr Broadbent warned that it will be difficult to estimate the impact of nightclubs reopening due to a lack of data.

“We need to urge caution because of high case rate across the UK and Ireland,” she said.

“In terms of opening up clubs, we don’t really know what effect that will have on the case rate. In the north, over 40 per cent of cases are in the under-twenties. Vaccination take-up in that age group is not as high as we would like it to be.

“There needs to be an emphasis on infection control measures that don’t impact our lives, such as lateral flow tests. If that kind of thing is encouraged, it means clubs can continue to operate as safely as possible.”

Meanwhile, the chair of BMA’s Northern Ireland council said the relaxations planned for the end of the month would ultimately lead to more Covid-19 deaths.

Speaking this morning, Dr Tom Black said the decision was "complete madness".

He criticised the move as “stupidity” as he warned the health system in the north was facing its “worst crisis ever” this winter as it dealt with the “triple whammy” of Covid, winter pressures and spiralling waiting lists.

Dr Black told BBC Radio Ulster: “If you open up the nightclubs to young people who aren’t vaccinated, they will increase the infection rate, that will increase admissions to hospital, that will increase mortality.”

He said the planned relaxations were “complete madness and stupidity”.

“We’ve eased the restrictions for that group of people in our community who have failed to become vaccinated,” he added.

“We have 25% of the 18 to 29 group non-vaccinated, 21% of the 30 to 39s, and what do we do with them? We say ‘you know what, you can go out, you can eat, you can drink, you can dance, forget about masks, forget about social distancing’.

“’You’re the group that are at highest risk, please go out and spread the infection, and then take it home to your granny’.

“That’s the medical professionals’ response to this.”

Dr Black added: “We’re being overwhelmed at the moment. This is not the time to ease restrictions, this is the time to turn to those people who aren’t vaccinated and say ‘you’re letting us down, you’re betraying your friends, your relatives and your granny, you’re out there, mixing, spreading the infection’.

“It’s seeping through into the older people and people are landing into hospital and dying because our young folk won’t get vaccinated – that’s not good enough.”

The BMA NI council chair continued: “We’re entering into the worst crisis ever – this winter is going to be much worse than last winter.

“Why? Because the triple whammy of Covid, the winter pressures, the waiting lists. And we have to tighten our belt, do the right thing and not indulge in wishful thinking.”

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