Northern Ireland news

Swann seeking legal advice on replacing Covid rules with guidance this week

Jonathan McCambridge and Rebecca Black, PA

Health Minister Robin Swann has said that he is seeking legal guidance on how to replace remaining Covid restrictions in Northern Ireland with guidance and advice.

But Mr Swann said the matter had been complicated by the resignation of DUP First Minister Paul Givan, adding that he had intended to bring a recommendation on removing restrictions to the Stormont Executive this week.

The deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has also been removed from her post following the resignation of Mr Givan in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

Speaking at a press conference in Belfast, Mr Swann said: “I’m not prepared to allow a failure of politics to get in the way of lifting now unnecessary restrictions.

“I can confirm it was my intention to go to the Executive this week to advocate a significant removal of Covid restrictions.

“I am now seeking that legal guidance on how I myself can replace the bulk of the remaining restrictions, if not all of them, with clear guidance and advice.

“When we had an Executive, ministers always said we wouldn’t retain restrictions for a day longer than necessary, so that same logic should still apply.”

Robin Swann said that removing the remaining Covid restrictions did not mean a “free for all”.

He said: “While we must move forward carefully, we can’t stay locked in emergency restrictions forever.

“We need to start getting normal back.

“That means moving cautiously out of the legal phase of the Covid response.

“I hope this will be a permanent decision.

“I am persuaded that having reviewed the data and consulted with senior medics and scientists within my department, the time to take this step is this week.”

Remaining Covid measures in Northern Ireland include the legal duty on retail to take reasonable measures to reduce the risk of transmission and a legal requirement to wear face coverings and the associated duty on businesses to take reasonable measures to ensure compliance.

Mr Swann said the process of removing remaining restrictions had been complicated by not having an Executive.

He said: “The legal situation has been complicated by the actions of last week, the Covid regulations have always been collective Executive regulations.

“And now we have no Executive.

“So this is not necessarily straightforward.

“But the people of Northern Ireland deserve a clear path ahead.

“That’s what I am continuing to work to provide.”

Mr Swann said it was approaching the second anniversary of the very first coronavirus case in Northern Ireland.

“I don’t believe any of us on that day in February 2020 could have imagined how long the unfolding crisis would last or the scale of the toll it would take.

“Two years on, a cautious optimism is growing.

“While the pandemic is certainly not over, we are in a better place.

“From knowing very little about the virus, we now have rapid tests and a range of antibody and antiviral treatments.

“And of course we’ve also had the game changer of the vaccination programme.

“We can dare to start looking ahead and planning ahead.

“We can hope.”

Meanwhile, two further people who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 have died in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health said.

Another 3,105 confirmed cases of the virus have also been notified in the last 24-hour reporting period.

On Monday morning, there were 362 Covid-19 inpatients in hospital, with 14 in intensive care.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access