Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride and Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Ian Young warn against carelessness and fatigue.
The headlines in recent days have understandably caused deep concern. We have seen a rise in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, the R number increasing and a delay in the re-opening of non-food serving pubs.
These developments underline the stark reality that the Coronavirus is not fading away. It is here for the long-term and remains highly infectious. It needs no second invitation to spread.
The people of Northern Ireland have done really well in terms of following public advice during this pandemic. Many younger people put their lives on hold to protect their parents and grandparents. Many people at most risk shielded for many months and many people saw their livelihoods suffer. Great sacrifices have been made and many lives have been saved as a result.
But there have been worrying signs that fatigue has led to carelessness and that some complacency might be creeping in.
We remain deeply concerned that COVID-19 cases could peak sharply here in the autumn or winter. Whether this happens or not is up to us all. The virus doesn't have a plan - its spread depends on our actions.
The consequences for many individuals and for our health service could be extremely serious – not least because health and social care provision is always especially fragile during winter.
However, we should not be defeatist about the months ahead.
As ever, the challenge involves plotting a sensible course between complacency and panic.
With a sustained collective effort across society, we can stay on top of the situation. We can keep protecting ourselves and others, especially those most vulnerable to the virus.
We now know much more about COVID-19. We have built up our testing and contact tracing infrastructure and we have some more effective treatments. This remains a vicious virus which can be lethal for many and we need to protect them.
As ever, everyone at all levels of the health and social care system will do their best to keep the population as safe as possible. They will not be found wanting. Now that the clapping has stopped, please continue to protect our health service and staff by doing the right thing.
Every citizen has to play their part.
That means following these five key steps we keep talking about.
- Watch your distance.
Keeping your distance remains essential when you are out and about. Remember, the virus doesn’t spread itself. People spread it, particularly through droplets from the mouth and nose.
- Wash hands well and frequently.
This is particularly important after touching hard surfaces that may have other people’s droplets on them.
- Wear face coverings in enclosed spaces and where social distancing is difficult.
This is now legally required for certain indoor settings, including shops. Don’t be a droplet spreader. And when you are not wearing a face covering, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.
- Co-operate with the Test, Trace and Protect programme in terms of getting tested and self-isolating when required.
- Download the StopCOVID NI proximity app to support contact tracing and help break chains of transmission.
Given what we have been through as a society this year already, these five steps are surely not beyond us all.
Life continues to be tough for so many of our citizens.
There is no easy way to get through this unprecedented period in our lives, no simple solution to the challenges we face.
We obviously want to take every feasible measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
At the same time, another lockdown would have very serious consequences for our economy, our society, our health service and the mental and physical health of many individuals.
We have no option but to work together and take all the necessary steps to stay safe.
WATCH, WASH, WEAR. We really must do it to get through it. This is a responsibility on all of us.
Notes to editors:
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