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Covid-19 'on the advance' in Northern Ireland as lockdowns to be considered

Stormont’s Health Minister has warned that Covid-19 is on the advance again in Northern Ireland.

Robin Swann told a Stormont media briefing he was now as worried about the virus as he had been in some time: “We are in danger of sliding down a very slippery and treacherous slope.”

His warning came as 41 new cases of the virus were announced in the North today with one new death reported as a result of the disease, while case numbers have almost doubled in the region in the past week.

Mr Swann said the Stormont Executive would meet to consider renewed coronavirus restrictions on Thursday, which could include localised measures or region-wide steps.

The threat that stared us in the face back in March is still there but this is not the time to blink.

“The time is coming for the Executive to consider fresh and concrete actions to prevent the further spread of the virus,” he said.

He said that though Northern Ireland had successfully repelled the “nightmare scenario” in the first wave of Covid-19, “the threat that stared us in the face back in March is still there but this is not the time to blink”.

Coronavirus media briefings resumed at Stormont today after a prolonged absence since the end of June, fronted by the Health Minister alongside the North’s chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride and chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young.

For some, complacency has no doubt set in and there is a belief that the virus was not as bad as we previously thought.

Chief medical adviser professor Ian Young said there had been a strong and striking increase in Covid-19 transmission in the North since the beginning of July.

“That is something which, if it continues, would cause significant problems for us in the next months,” he said.

Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said complacency had set in among some people: “For some, complacency has no doubt set in and there is a belief that the virus was not as bad as we previously thought.”

Dr McBride said the flu vaccine programme was being significantly expanded in Northern Ireland, warning of the increased threat to life if people contracted both flu and Covid-19 at the same time.

He said local lockdowns and limits on people gathering were on the table: “Neither Ian nor I will hesitate one moment at providing advice to the minister or to the Executive if we feel that restrictions, either at a local level or general restrictions, are required to again suppress the virus.”


Meanwhile, Stormont education minister Peter Weir answered questions from the education committee of Assembly members on preparations for schools reopening later this month.

He said children should wear face coverings on their journeys to schools but added he did not want to be too prescriptive about measures to be taken within classrooms.

“The importance of education in society will mean that the best course of action is that full-time return, with as much mitigation as possible,” he said.

“No one knows how the future is going to develop in relation to that.”