Health Minister Robin Swann has warned that Northern Ireland is entering a new phase in the Covid-19 pandemic, with “hopes and fears” sitting side by side.
And he urged everyone to remain “ultra-vigilant” when it comes to stopping the spread of the virus.
“We still have a number of crucial days left of the current lockdown measures and we need to fully maximise the benefit from these,” he said. “The more we stay at home and minimise our contacts with each other, the more we can push down infection rates.
“That way, we can protect each other and help give the health service some vital breathing space.”
The Health Minister said the easing of some restrictions from this Friday, December 11, should not lead to any easing of vigilance across the community.
“We are going into this festive season with hopes and fears co-existing side by side. There is great optimism with the first of the Covid-19 vaccines now approved and its long roll-out beginning this week.
“But there are genuine fears that this optimism could lead to people letting their guard down much too soon.
“It is vital to remember that this vaccination programme will take many months to complete and our rate of progress will depend on available supplies. It is a long-term undertaking.
“While we are entering a new phase, the pandemic is far from over. This is a time for maximum self-discipline – a time for us all to be ultra-vigilant.”
The Minister said he will not hesitate to immediately recommend a further tightening of restrictions, should Covid-19 cases spike again and threaten to overwhelm the health service.
“I fully accept that we cannot stay in a permanent lockdown. Damage to our economy has lasting consequences for physical and mental well-being.
“Likewise, I think it is important that people have the option of some contact with loved ones for a set period over Christmas. Loneliness and isolation are also important health issues.
“But the greater freedoms of the coming weeks will place great responsibility on all our shoulders. Every contact with someone outside your household comes with a degree of risk. It’s on all us of to reduce that risk as much as possible.
“Every time we reduce our contacts, even by one, it is one less opportunity for the virus to spread, one less risk of a hospital admission.
“Please be aware that the virus will take full advantage of situations where people mix in crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation and where social distancing is not maintained.
“We must all stick to the tried and tested methods – keeping our distance, washing our hands and wearing a face covering.”
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