Health Minister Robin Swann has pledged that decisive action will continue to be taken to combat the spread of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.
The Minister said Executive interventions must be accompanied by a concerted community-wide effort to get the virus back under control.
“The data on additional positive cases in Northern Ireland continues to be deeply disturbing. Sadly, it was announced on Sunday that another person has passed away.
“I really hope that by now everyone is fully aware of the scale of the crisis we are facing. Our hospitals are already under growing pressure and this will inevitably intensify in the coming weeks given the extent of the new cases.
“Concrete action has been taken by Executive on a number of fronts and I will not hesitate to recommend further restrictions. Saving lives and protecting our health service must come first.
“Household contacts have been severely curtailed across Northern Ireland and more intensive restrictions have been introduced for Derry and Strabane local government district, in light of the data for that council area.
“Additional planned interventions are under active consideration. I continue to be very mindful of the adverse consequences of this pandemic on society and the economy. I do not want a return to a long-term or indefinite lockdown.”
Mr Swann said: “The health service and the Executive have particularly heavy responsibilities at this time but we cannot fight this virus on our own. We need the whole community to rally round and to strictly follow the public health advice.
“Social distancing is not an optional extra. Unless we significantly reduce our contacts with each other, Covid-19 cases will continue to grow, hospital admissions will increase and more lives will be lost. Alongside social distancing, hand washing and wearing a face covering remain vital to keeping each other safe.”
Urging everyone to adhere to the regulations and guidance now in place, the Minister added: “The restrictions are based on a fundamental irrefutable principle – cutting down contacts between people is a proven way of reducing the spread of the virus.
“I would appeal to people not to look for loopholes or grey areas in the regulations. Let’s all take responsibility for our own actions and do everything we can to look after each other.”
The Minister concluded by thanking all those who have been reinforcing key public health messages in Northern Ireland at this critical time, including elected representatives and community and sectoral representatives.
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- Platform piece:
The facts behind the Executive interventions
By Professor Ian Young, Chief Scientific Advisor
Northern Ireland wide intervention to minimise household contacts is in place. The hospitality sector is the second most important sector for intervention to reduce adult contacts. That’s why the localised restrictions are being introduced in Derry and Strabane Local Government District.
Data collated by the end of last week underpin this decision. In Derry and Strabane, of cases reported in the fourteen days up to October 2, 29% were associated with household transmission, 16% with known clusters and 55% with community transmission. Of those cases which formed part of known clusters, more than half were acquired in the hospitality sector.
Community transmission includes cases which have been acquired as a result of close contacts outside the household, and therefore includes a wide variety of settings, including the hospitality sector.
As community transmission increases, it becomes increasingly difficult to pinpoint where individual Covid cases are acquired in most cases.
The vast majority of cases were acquired in unknown settings – this inevitably will includes the hospitality sector among other locations.
There have been a number of identified clusters associated with the hospitality sector, and we know from other parts of the UK and international experience that indoor contacts in the setting of the hospitality sector are associated with increased transmission risk.
The Department of Health commissioned a contact survey which assessed the number and location of relevant contacts by a representative sample of the NI adult population. 44% of contacts occurred in a household setting, and the second largest identifiable category of contacts was in a social setting (20%), consisting mainly of contacts in the hospitality sector.
Contacts in the hospitality sector tend to be closer and longer than contacts in many other settings, and in addition mitigation through the use of face coverings is generally not possible.
Therefore these contacts are likely to be of higher risk than contacts in other settings. Alcohol consumption will also be a factor in failure to comply with social distancing.
It made sense to focus in the first instance on contacts in household settings – given the extent of these interactions and the fact they can’t be monitored or individually regulated.
That was the first lever to pull. In light of the present surge in Covid-19 cases, other levers are likely to be needed. It will be for the Executive to decide how best to proceed, while also seeking to mitigate adverse consequences for society and the economy.
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