Speaking at today's press conference in Parliament Buildings, Health Minister Robin Swann said: "This is another deeply distressing day for all of us in Northern Ireland.
"Today we sadly reported our highest number of deaths to date. Eighteen more lives lost. Eighteen more families with their hearts broken, eighteen more people that will have been loved and now will be deeply missed.
"We must never forget that behind every death there are families and friends, so let me convey my deepest sympathies to them.
"But today’s statistics should be a grim wake up call to anyone who is getting complacent about what we are going through.
"As of this morning we had 45 patients in intensive care and yesterday there were 105 hospital admissions due to Covid-19. That was the biggest number this week.
"We are in the midst of the biggest public health crisis in the history of Northern Ireland. As I said in the Assembly yesterday - we are living through scenes that only 3 months ago would have been wholly unimaginable, yet we must realise that we are in the fight against this virus for the long haul.
"We have done well so far in keeping our distance, in staying at home and following all the advice. But there is still a long way to go.
"Don’t let it slip now. Your actions now can save lives in the weeks ahead. Your actions can save other families from being plunged into grief.
"This is a challenging time for everyone, but I absolutely recognise the hugely difficult circumstances of a family member wanting to be with their loved one in their final moments.
"On 26 March my Department wrote out to the Trusts with a visiting update. With immediate effect, visits to hospitals were stopped. I was clear that the decision was being taken on the clear clinical advice that it was the right thing to do in the interests of protecting patients, their families and all of our health and social care staff.
"However, there were a small number of exemptions – with one of those being for palliative or end of life care. We are all human. We all share similar emotions. When feasibly possible, and with prior agreement with senior staff, a visitor can be allowed onto a general ward to see a loved one who is sadly passing away.
"There is a particular issue with visiting covid-patients in intensive care wards however. Today I have spoken to a number of senior clinicians and their collective expert opinion is that allowing significant numbers of visits to ICUs presents too significant a risk. Given the serious risk of infection, especially if PPE is not donned and doffed in exactly the correct manner, such visits present a real challenge to both visitors and staff. However, this is something that I have asked the Northern Ireland Critical Care Network to currently review.
"Let me also say something about the fact that Covid-19 is such a threat to older people, regardless of what setting they are in. Their deaths are just as much a tragedy as any other age. Let no one ever suggest anything different.
"Often the final years of a life can be particularly meaningful and profound. Insights based on rich experience can be shared, relationships with families deepened, wisdom handed down the generations.
"Often roles are reversed at this stage and children and grandchildren become the carers. They become the ones who do the worrying and the looking after, they get a chance to repay some of what their parents did for them.
"Bonds are deepened; rich and lasting memories secured.
"So what we are dealing with are very cruel tragedies, robbing families of precious time together. We must never forget that.
"We must make sure that health and social care services provide all the help and support they can at these times.
"I have heard hurtful and untrue allegations being made about deaths in the community and in particular in care homes. No one is being forgotten.
"Those of us in charge of the health service are members of this community. We are carers, we have elderly loved ones, some of them living their final years in care homes.
"As this virus has taken hold I’ve been keen to put as much information out into the public domain.
"Yes, there are challenges with publishing up to date information on deaths in the community. We and NISRA are working through that as we always would.
"But let me make clear again. Every single care home resident, every single senior citizen matters just as much as every other person in our society.
"That is why we must stick to social distancing for as long as it takes – to protect the most vulnerable in society, to protect our parents and grandparents who have done so much for us.
"This crisis has also underlined just how important social care is to our society.
"The work done by care home staff and domiciliary workers must be recognised and applauded just as much as those on other parts of the front line.
"Tonight at 8pm once again, let also us all stand in our doorways and show how much we appreciate the health and social care workers and all they are doing at this time. Like never before people are realising the true value and worth of the National Health Service – and all of the heroes that work within it.
"It is vitally important that we fully support everyone across the health and social care system, that they know we have their backs. As Minister I have their back.
"Today I was pleased to launch a new Framework, setting out how the well-being of health and social care staff and volunteers will be a key priority throughout the current Covid-19 crisis. It sets out a range of practical measures that will protect the psychological health and wellbeing of our workers. We need to make clear to everyone across the health and social care system that we have their backs. The Framework recognises the changing needs of our HSC staff throughout the crisis. I am committed to meeting those needs both now and into the future."
Notes to editors:
- The Framework Supporting the Well-being Needs of our Health and Social Care Staff during COVID-19: A Framework for Leaders and Managers is based on evidence and best practice guidance and is informed by The British Psychological Society Guidance Paper.
- For media enquiries please contact the Department of Health Press Office email@example.com. Out of hours please contact the Duty Press Office on 028 9037 8110.
- Follow us on twitter @healthdpt
- Publication of the quarterly Northern Ireland outpatient, inpatient and day case, and diagnostic waiting times statistics - position on 30 September 2023 30 November 2023
- New pancreatic cancer partnership announced 30 November 2023
- Health Survey (NI): First Results 2022/23 29 November 2023
- New obesity consultations launched 24 November 2023