Stormont Health Minister ‘cautiously optimistic’ on Covid-19

Robin Swann was speaking the day after a swathe of relaxations to the Covid restrictions were announced by the Executive.

Robin Swann
Robin Swann

Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann has said he is cautiously optimistic about Covid-19.

Earlier this week the Stormont Executive announced a swathe of relaxations of the restrictions.

From Friday rules on table service in pubs and restaurants were relaxed and the requirement to prove exemptions on wearing face masks was removed.

From next Wednesday nightclubs will be able to reopen and Covid certification will no longer be required to enter pubs, restaurants or cinemas.

Coronavirus restrictions
Liam McQuoid takes orders at Bodenes Diner in Lisburn, Co Antrim (Liam McBurney/PA)

Ministers are set to consider the remaining restrictions on February 10.

Mr Swann said they will have to take account of how things stand at that point with cases, and whether another variant has emerged.

“I have always taken the decision at the time in regards to the advice that was put forward via my chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser, so February 10, while it will be a key date, let’s make sure we get there safely and as collectively as we can,” he told reporters at Dunsilly, Co Antrim.

“I would still encourage people to follow the guidance, follow the regulations that are still in place and take the opportunities to come forward and get their vaccines and their boosters.

“There are three weeks to go and I want to keep the trajectory of this virus going in the same direction as it has been, and that’s downwards.”

While the Covid certification scheme has previously sparked differences of opinion in the Executive, Mr Swann said it had kept some hospitality businesses open over Christmas.

Venues will no longer be legally required to request Covid certification for entry from January 26, although it will continue for nightclubs and indoor events with more than 500 people, as well as international travel.

“We were able to utilise it to keep some of our hospitality sector open where other areas were actually closing theirs down or having curfews,” he said.

“Covid certification is an international requirement when it comes to travel, so it’s not something that is going to disappear overnight, so people should not get into the mindset that that’s it, over and done with.”

On staffing pressures in hospitals due to absences, Mr Swann said the situation remains challenging.

He has submitted an MACA request for military assistance, and expects to have a decision early next week.

“We initially requested in the region of 60 to 80 (medical technicians) depending on Ministry of Defence assessments of how many they can release at that point in time due to other worldwide pressures as well,” he said.

“They will make a difference, not only for the level of physical activity they bring but what we’ve actually seen in the past is that additional help actually brings a morale boost to staff as well, when they realise they’re not on their own and there are other people to come forward and provide help.”

A further six people who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 have died in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health has said.

Another 3,568 confirmed cases of the virus have also been notified in the last 24-hour reporting period.

On Friday there were 398 Covid-19 inpatients in hospital, 24 of whom were being treated in ICU.

Mr Swann said none of the patients in ICU on Friday had the Omicron variant.

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