Northern Ireland news

Sir Michael McBride: Closure of schools would be 'the very, very last thing we look at'

Sir Michael said it was too early to know how Omicron cases may impact on Covid restrictions.

Closing schools would be the last resort, according to Northern Ireland's chief medical officer, as Northern Ireland grapples with rising Covid cases.

Speaking to BBC News NI, Prof Sir Michael McBride said we will see a "significant increase" in case numbers before Christmas.

There are currently 437 Omicron cases in the UK, of which three are in Northern Ireland. 

The first cases of the variant were discovered in Northern Ireland on Tuesday and Sir Michael said there are "undoubtedly" unidentified cases.

Sir Michael said it was too early to know how Omicron cases may impact on Covid restrictions.

"It's important at this point that we don't get ahead of ourselves," he said.

He said the closure of schools would be "the very, very last thing we look at".

"I think our children have suffered quite significantly throughout this pandemic," he said.

"I think our teachers have done a fantastic job, I think parents have done a fantastic job supporting them throughout remote learning - but it is not the same as face-to-face learning."

Sir Michael warned that there was "concern" about how the variant, which is highly transmissible, may impact the health service.

"If you have a large number of people who are infected at one point in time, even if a small number of the large number infected end up in hospital, that's still significant pressure on our health service.

"I think we need to be very careful, I think we need to be guarded, and I think we need to just watch this space until we get more data."

Meanwhile, Health Minister Robin Swann made a fresh appeal for more people to get jabbed on the anniversary of the first Covid-19 vaccination being delivered in the north.

Nurse Joanna Hogg was the first person to receive a Pfizer dose, which was administered on the Royal Victoria hospital site in Belfast.

Mr Swann said that exactly 12 months on, almost 1.4 million people have now been inoculated, which he described as "phenomenal".

However, almost a quarter of adults aged 18-29 remain unvaccinated.

There has been a surge in the number of people receiving their first jab in recent weeks after the Stormont executive voted to introduce vaccine passports to gain entry to pubs, restaurants and other indoor/outdoor venues.

Sister Joanna Hogg was the first person in Northern Ireland to receive a Covid-19 vaccine at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast this day last year. Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Mr Swann said: "The overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland recognise the importance of vaccination with nine out of 10 adults here now vaccinated.

"If you happen to remain unvaccinated, it’s not too late to take up the offer of vaccination. Vaccination remains the single most important thing we can do to protect ourselves from serious illness and it will also reduce the chances of you passing the virus on to those around you which in turn will help reduce unnecessary strain on the health service.”

The Department of Health yesterday confirmed a further five related coronavirus deaths.

The total number of deaths since the pandemic began stands at 2,907. Another 1,658 positive cases of the virus were recorded.

There were 317 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 35 were in intensive care.

The rollout of the booster programme continues, with more than 457,000 doses now administered.

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Northern Ireland news