"We have to walk a fine line between awareness and alarm"

Date published: 03 March 2020

Platform piece on coronavirus (Covid-19) by Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

A UK-wide Government action plan on tackling Coronavirus (COVID 19) has now been published.

It details the actions taken to date and prospective measures at our disposal.

The plan reflects the health service’s wealth of experience dealing with other infectious diseases, as well as detailed work undertaken over years on influenza pandemic preparedness.

We are obviously facing a serious situation with cases of Coronavirus spreading across the world and reaching our shores. Realistically, we should expect more cases to be confirmed in Northern Ireland and elsewhere on these islands.

But let me assure everyone that intensive work is continuing day in and day out to protect our citizens.

The Government action plan details measures which may be taken if we move beyond the current containment phase in Northern Ireland.

These are measures that we will have in our toolkits to deploy – but only if required. We are being upfront and transparent about them.

Responsible governments will always plan well ahead for all potential eventualities. That does not mean we believe worst case scenarios are going to happen.

As I said in the Assembly on Monday, complacency is our enemy – but so too are panic and hysteria.

Premature action – for instance restricting everyday activities – will bring social costs in terms of the impact on our lives, our economy and indeed our health.

We will continue to take a balanced and proportionate approach at all times. Our decisions will be taken on the basis of the best scientific advice.

There is always a balance to be struck. Our public messaging has to walk a fine line between awareness and alarm.

I think the public here gets that. We are resilient people and know all about coping during challenging circumstances.

I urge everyone not to be influenced by rumour, uninformed speculation or fake news on the internet.

We have the health service’s public health experts to guide us on the best way forward.

There are good sources of official advice publicly available. Detailed information about Coronavirus is provided on the Public Health Agency website. If you want to speak to someone about COVID-19 you can call the NHS 111 helpline - pressing 1 when you are given the option.

If you have recently been to one of the Coronavirus-affected regions and have symptoms, contact your GP or GP out of hours or local hospital by phone. Symptoms can be a cough, or fever, or shortness of breath.

GPs will advise on whether self-isolation and testing are required. Please do not attend your GP surgery or hospital unannounced. Make contact beforehand to ensure the right arrangements can be put in place.

Everyone can play their part in preventing the spread of the disease. I know it sounds strange to hear politicians repeatedly telling people to wash their hands with soap and hot water – for 20 seconds at a time.

But this could really make a difference.

One way or another, it’s about rolling our sleeves up and getting on with it.

- Robin Swann MLA, Minister for Health


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