'The time fore definitive dates will comes' says Health Minister Robin Swann - DUP did not ask for dates to be included in NI recovery plan says Michelle O'Neill - UK variant forces schools to close four weeks after reopening in Italy

The Health Minister Robin Swann is asking people frustrated with the Executive's Covid recovery plan to remain patient as "the time for definitive dates will come".

Thursday, 4th March 2021, 9:40 am

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Health Minister, Robin Swann. (Photo: Pacemaker)

LIVE UPDATES - Coronavirus NI - ‘The time fore definitive dates will comes’ says Health Minister Robin Swann

Last updated: Wednesday, 03 March, 2021, 18:14

'The time fore definitive dates will comes' says Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister, Robin Swann.

Health Minister Robin Swann said he understood the frustration created by the lack of dates in Northern Ireland’s lockdown exit strategy.

“I totally understand the frustration that we cannot move faster out of lockdown or be more definitive about the pathway out of lockdown,” he said.

“As I’ve stressed before, I would rather maintain steady pace than charge for the exit door and fall over. There is too much at risk – both in terms of people’s health but also how much more uncertainty our businesses could ever be expected to face.

“The time for definitive dates will come. Of course it will. But some of those demanding a calendar-led approach now would be the first to shout if we gave them dates and then had to alter them because of the progression of the pandemic. This virus is not predictable. It does not follow a pre-planned route map.

“Likewise, I would love to be able to announce a simple mathematical formula on how the data will determine all our decisions.

“There are too many complexities and uncertainties. We cannot offer people false assurance.”

Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland, Dr. Michael McBride.

Robin Swann expressed concern at evidence of increased reporting of mental health problems in Northern Ireland.

“This has been an incredibly difficult twelve months – unprecedented in living memory,” he said.

“In the space of a year so many people listening have experienced fear, financial concerns, bereavement, but also optimism and a deep sense of pride and sense of unity through our community solidarity.

“That rollercoaster of emotions has for some undoubtedly triggered mental health conditions or exacerbated existing ones.

“My department continues to monitor closely the impacts of Covid on a range of mental health indicators.

“Worryingly, we are seeing increasing mental health presentations and an increased level of acuity in mental health services, so it’s important that we have the services in place to meet that demand.

“That is a message I really want to make today – if you need support, or if you know of someone who does – please come forward.”

Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said there was increasing evidence on the extent to which vaccines limited the transmission of Covid-19.

He stressed the importance of maximising vaccination rates in the region.

“It is the breakthrough we were all hoping for and it’s the breakthrough we were all working for in the very darkest months of this pandemic,” he said.

“Yes, it will permanently change the impact of the virus and increasingly lessen our dependence on some of the measures we currently have in place and all of the consequences of those measures.”

Four additional Covid related deaths in last 24 hours

The Department of Health (DoH) has recorded an additional four Covid-19 related deaths in the last 24 hours.

It takes the total number of deaths to Covid since the beginning of the pandemic to 2,063.

An additional 226 people tested positive for the virus within the last 24 hours too.

It means the total number of people to test positive in the last seven days and since the pandemic began last year is now 1,419 and 113,006 respectively.

DUP did not ask for indicative dates to be included in NI’s Covid-19 recovery plan says Michelle O’Neill

The DUP did not ask for indicative dates to be included in the Northern Ireland Executive’s Covid-19 recovery plan, according to deputy First Minister.

Ms. O’Neill was defending the plan on Good Morning Ulster on BBC Radio Ulster when she made the comments about the DUP.

Asked by presenter Chris Buckler if the DUP had asked for indicative dates to be included in the plan Michelle O’Neill said the had not.

“No, they did not and they didn’t ask for dates.

“There was a collective agreement that this was the best and most flexible plan we could produce.

“I think if we are steady, if we are cautious, if we are sustainable and we put peoples’ safety first then this will be a good plan to get us out of the lockdown situation and back to brighter days,” she added.

We contacted the DUP but no reply was received at the time of publication.

UK variant forces schools to close four weeks after reopening in Italy

The UK Covid-19 variant (B117) has forced the closure of some schools in Italy four weeks after they reopened.

As of February 18, B117 accounted for 53 per cent of all new infections in Italy - this variant is also the dominant strain in Northern Ireland.

“The British variant has a particular ability to spread among the younger generation,” health minister Roberto Speranza told a press conference.

“This has led us to make a choice, namely that schools at all levels in the red zones will move to distance learning,” he said.

The Italian government is not expected to review its decision to close schools until the beginning of next month.

Children at pre-school, nursery and primaries one, two and three are set to return for face-to-face learning on Monday March 8.

Schoolchildren in years 13, 14 and 15 will begin to return on March 22.

All schoolchildren could return to classrooms after the Easter break in April.

The UK government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) published a report at the end of 2020.

The report suggested younger people and children were more likely to be infected with Covid-19 than they were when the original strain of the virus was dominant.

However, there is no evidence that the strain risks more severe illness for children and young people.

“We now have high confidence that this variant does have a transmission advantage over other virus variants that are currently in the UK,” said Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infectious diseases at Oxford University and chair of NERVTAG.

“There is a hint that it has a higher propensity to infect children,” said Neil Ferguson, a professor and infectious disease epidemiologist at Imperial College London and also a member of NERVTAG.

Executive recovery plan 'mumbo jumbo' and 'a charade' says top NI restaurateur Michael Deane

The Northern Ireland Executive's Covid-19 recovery plan has been slated by top restaurateur, Michael Deane.

Speaking on The Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster on Wednesday morning, Mr. Deane, said the Executive’s decision to publish a plan without indicative dates will lead to business owners “walking around like prisoners”.

“We want dates,” said Mr. Deane.

“The way in which the plan was delivered on Tuesday was a charade and it was full of mumbo jumbo.

“I feel none the wiser for having read the plan,” he added.

TUV leader and MLA for North Antrim, Jim Allister, said the plan was “a mantra to cover up that they [NI Executive] cannot agree”.

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