Today, it was confirmed that another person has sadly passed away in Northern Ireland after contracting COVID-19.
My condolences go out to their family and friends.
This pandemic continues to take a heavy toll locally, nationally and internationally.
We in Northern Ireland are now at a critical juncture in our response to it.
It’s part of my job as Health Minister to be worried. To plan ahead for pessimistic scenarios. To work for the best but prepare for the worst.
And I have to tell you that I’m as worried today as I’ve ever been for some time.
That’s because there are clear indications that COVID-19 is on the advance again in Northern Ireland.
We are in danger of sliding down a very slippery and treacherous slope.
However, this is not inevitable. We can still arrest that slide.
This requires decisive action from all of us.
There are still many uncertainties about Coronavirus, many things we have yet to learn.
But some things we do know.
That includes the simple steps we all can take to keep ourselves and others safe.
Washing our hands regularly and well keeps us safe.
Keeping our distance from others keeps us safe.
So does wearing a face covering in shops and other enclosed spaces.
This is not rocket science.
I’m sure many people are tired of hearing me give the same messages week in week out. I understand that.
Yes, we’re all fed up and scunnered with COVID-19 and the way it has torn apart our daily lives.
But here’s the thing, the virus has not lost its energy or potency. It has not got tired of spreading.
We cannot give into fatigue or complacency.
COVID-19 won’t go away just because we are fed up with it.
We must keep sticking together and looking after each other.
Social distancing, washing our hands, covering our noses and mouths when we sneeze or cough, wearing a face covering, downloading the StopCOVID NI app, getting tested and self isolating if required.
None of this is beyond us.
I can report today that the StopCOVID NI app is already making a difference. Downloads are still increasing and are approaching the 270,000 mark. And already, 76 notifications have been issued to users, informing them that they have been in close proximity to someone who has tested positive.
Working together, we can all continue to make a difference.
Five months ago, I stood on this platform and warned of a nightmare scenario if people here didn’t follow public health advice.
Thankfully, that advice was followed. The nightmare was successfully repelled.
This did not happen by accident. It was only achieved by collective action and a collective spirit across this country.
And let’s not forget that, while it could have been much much worse, hundreds of people did still lose their lives.
The threat that stared us all in the face in March is still there.
This is not the time for us to blink.
Let me address the doubters and critics in our midst.
There will be some who accuse me of exaggerating the threat. They will say that while COVID cases have been increasing, hospital admissions have not. They will say that infections are impacting on young people mainly.
This argument overlooks the fact that there can be a time lag between infection and people becoming ill enough to require hospital treatment.
And it would foolish to imagine that the virus would not spread from younger people to older and vulnerable members of our community. COVID-19 does not check your birth certificate before it hits you.
And, of course, young people should not imagine that they are totally immune from the serious consequences that Coronavirus can bring.
Meanwhile, there will be others who will say that we are being too lax with our restrictions, that we have allowed society to open up too much.
There are always fine judgements to be made on that.
A permanent total lockdown might keep COVID-19 rates very low, but it would have massive repercussions for society and individuals.
We have as always to maintain a delicate balance.
But I will say this.
The time is coming for the Executive to consider fresh and concrete actions to prevent further spread of the virus. That could include imposing localised restrictions, or introducing more general measures or a combination of both.
Given where we are now, this Thursday’s meeting of the Executive will have important decisions and options to consider.
Minister of Health
Notes to editors:
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- The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.
- Northern Ireland Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) Information 2019/20 30 October 2020
- Coronavirus (Covid-19) Infection Survey Northern Ireland – 17 - 23 October 2020 30 October 2020
- Statistics from the Northern Ireland Substance Misuse Database: 2019/20 29 October 2020
- Swann Welcomes Funding Allocation to Health 29 October 2020