Northern Ireland news

Early action needed to flatten the Covid curve, minister warns

Communities Minister said her party would be giving consideration to proposals tabled by Health Minister Robin Swann to help suppress the recent surge in Covid-19 transmission
David Young, PA

Action is needed to quickly flatten the curve of infections, a Stormont minister has warned.

Sinn Féin’s Deirdre Hargey said her party would be giving consideration to proposals tabled by Health Minister Robin Swann to help suppress the recent surge in Covid-19 transmission.

A majority of Executive ministers have already backed Mr Swann’s plan for Covid certification at a range of hospitality outlets.

Last night, he circulated a paper to ministers proposing a series of new measures.

The paper, seen by the PA news agency, includes a recommendation to strengthen work from home guidance, more robust enforcement on face mask wearing and a “scores on the doors” type system to rate how compliant businesses are with Covid rules and mitigations.

Monday morning has been proposed as potential slot for Stormont ministers to convene to consider Mr Swann’s package of proposals.

“Obviously we want to do everything that we can,” said Communities Minister Ms Hargey, who was attending the British Irish Council summit in Cardiff on Friday on behalf of Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill – who was unwell.

“No one tool in the overall toolbox is going to work. We need a variety of interventions. We obviously want to minimise those as much as we can but trying to move early to ensure that we avoid an increase, a sharp increase, in this pandemic and not to repeat what happened last year.

“So, of course, we’re going to consider anything that the Health Minister and the chief medical officer brings forward if we believe that it can flatten the curve more quickly then we want to work with them, but importantly the public, in order to do that, so that we can avoid a lockdown that we have seen previously, that we can flatten the curve quickly and also that we can protect the health service over this winter period.”

On Wednesday, a majority of Stormont ministers backed the Covid certification scheme despite DUP opposition.

It will see legal enforcement of coronavirus status entry requirements for nightclubs, bars, restaurants and a range of other settings from December 13.

Mr Swann has proposed that the Assembly is given the opportunity to debate the new regulations before enforcement comes into effect.

While the four DUP ministers voted against the certification proposal, the party did not deploy a cross-community voting mechanism that could have blocked the introduction of the scheme in the north.

Under the compulsory certification scheme, people wishing to gain entry to designated venues would need to demonstrate evidence of Covid-19 vaccination, a negative lateral flow test result, or proof of a coronavirus infection within the previous six months.

Today DUP minister Edwin Poots said one of the most effective ways to beat the current wave was to ramp up the booster programme.

Mr Poots, who attended the Cardiff summit on behalf of First Minister Paul Givan who was in France at a commemoration event, said he is “at a bit of a loss” as to why Northern Ireland’s booster programme is lagging behind other parts of the UK.

The Agriculture Minister was asked whether he would support Mr Swann’s proposal to strengthen work-from-home guidance and whether he believed there would be a need for the reintroduction of lockdown measures in Northern Ireland.

He declined to be drawn on those issues, but added: “The fact that in Northern Ireland of the 500,000 people who are eligible currently to get that (booster jab), only 200,000 have got that.

“I really want to hear from the Health Minister how they’re actually going to roll out the booster vaccination to ensure that the 300,000 who are on the waiting list for that, and the hundreds of thousands who will be coming on to that waiting list over the course of the next number of weeks, will actually have that administered because that will be the biggest and most significant difference that can be made, and I am at a bit of a loss to understand why the booster vaccination is being rolled out so slowly.”

Yesterday, Mr Swann announced a series of initiatives aimed at accelerating booster delivery across Northern Ireland.

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