LiveArlene Foster in tears as she pays tribute to her friend and former colleague Jimmy Spratt - Health Minister Robin Swann questions deputy First Minister’s NI infection rate claim - Nightingale facility in Belfast City Hospital prioritised for deescalation

First Minister, Arlene Foster, was in tears as she paid tribute to her friend and former colleague Jimmy Spratt who passed away after long battle with cancer.

Thursday, 4th March 2021, 6:17 pm

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First Minister Arlene Foster pictured during Thursday's press conference. (Photo: Pacemaker)

LIVE UPDATES: Arlene Foster in tears as she pays tribute to her friend and former colleague Jimmy Spratt

Last updated: Thursday, 04 March, 2021, 18:14

Arlene Foster in tears as she pays tribute to her friend and former colleague Jimmy Spratt

Arlene Foster in 2008 with her friend and former DUP colleague, Jimmy Spratt, who died after a battle with cancer.

First Minister, Arlene Foster, was in tears as she paid tribute to her friend and former colleague Jimmy Spratt who passed away after long battle with cancer.

The DUP leader said: “Jimmy, like me, believed very much in building a shared future.

“He wanted everyone here to feel at home in Northern Ireland, and he wanted to make devolution work, and he never shied away from the challenge of trying to keep Northern Ireland moving in the right direction.

“And I just want to acknowledge that today. I will miss him and his quiet, determined support.”

Mrs Foster then went on to brief the media on the current situation with Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.

The First Minister explained the R number in Northern Ireland is between 0.65 and 0.75, and hailed the fall in the number of people testing positive for Covid-19.

She welcomed plans to scale up high priority surgery and rebuilding elective care services at Belfast City Hospital as the Nightingale facility is stepped down.

With some of the youngest children set to return to primary schools next week, Mrs Foster said the impact will be assessed by the Executive at the next review of the plan to leave lockdown on March 16.

Three additional deaths and 163 new cases in last 24 hours

Three more people have died with Covid-19 in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health said.

Another 163 tested positive.

A total of 244 Covid patients are in hospital, 29 in intensive care.

Health Minister Robin Swann questions deputy First Minister’s NI infection rate claim

Northern Ireland Health Minister, Robin Swann, has questioned the accuracy of how deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, described the Covid-19 infection rate in the Assembly in Stormont on Tuesday.

Deputy First Minister O’Neill was answering questions on the publication of the Covid recovery plan on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive when she appeared to suggest the infection rate in Northern Ireland was worse than those of the Republic of Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales.

Ms. O’Neill was replying to a question put to her by DUP MLA Paul Givan when she said: “We are in a different position here - compare us to the 26 counties, England, Scotland and Wales - our rates per 100,000 are higher than elsewhere.”

DUP MLA Pam Cameron raised the issue with both Health Minister Swann and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael McBride during a meeting of the health committee on Thursday morning.

The MLA for South Antrim asked both Minister Swann and CMO Dr. McBride if they agreed with how the deputy First Minister described the infection rate.

Dr. McBride declined to comment saying he had not heard what the deputy First Minister had said and was not aware of the context in which was mentioned.

However, Health Minister Swann responded saying: “It’s not a description of infection rates that I would have used.”

According to the most recent set of statistics released by the UK government the infection rates per 100,000 of the population of each part of the UK are as follows:

- Northern Ireland - 88.8

- England - 91.4

- Scotland - 84.6

- Wales - 58.7

The Executive Office has been asked for a response.

NI seeing ‘slight growth’ in cases of Covid-19 - Health Minister

Robin Swann said while “good progress” is still being made in the pandemic, the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 “remains high”, and there is “slight growth” in case numbers again.

“Therefore I must emphasise that if increasing social contact goes again too quickly, we may find ourselves back in the cycle that we’ve seen, but we know the rollout of the vaccination programme continues to make good progress and is expected to have a substantial impact on the epidemic in the medium to longer term,” he told the Stormont Health Committee.

He said the planned inoculation of those aged 50 and over in April will be a “monumental step in a population-wide vaccination programme”.

Mr Swann also highlighted the “ongoing risk of increased transmissibility from new variants of the virus that have been identified elsewhere”.

He said cases of the South African variant have been confirmed in Northern Ireland over the last week.

He said no cases of the Brazilian variant have been reported in the region so far.

“The full impact of the new variants will only be seen when measures are relaxed and the R number may rise more than would previously have been the case,” he said.

Nightingale facility in Belfast City Hospital prioritised for deescalation

Northern Ireland’s Nightingale facility at Belfast City Hospital has been “prioritised for de-escalation”, the region’s health minister has said.

Robin Swann said the move is to facilitate the rebuilding of services.

He told the Stormont Health Committee the health service is “de-escalating” ICU to rebuild elective care services.

“Belfast City Hospital normally hosts our complex high priority surgery on behalf of the region so I’m keen that we scale up this high priority surgery as quickly as possible,” he told MLAs.

Critical care for Covid patients will be delivered at the Mater Hospital.

“Elective care rebuild must reflect a regional prioritisation to ensure that those in most clinical need regardless of place of residence are prioritised,” he said.

Belfast City Hospital. (Photo: Google Street View)

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