Michelle O'Neill says reopening is 'balanced way forward' as Gerry Carroll raises higher rate of COVID-19 in Derry/Strabane
Michelle O'Neill says she is confident the Executive has arrived at a 'balanced way forward' in moving to ease a raft of coronavirus lockdown restrictions despite the higher rate of infections in Derry and Strabane.
She said it is impossible to predict with certainty the long-term trajectory of the pandemic but said ongoing adherence to the guidance regarding social distancing, mask-wearing, hand and respiratory hygiene and contact-tracing would be key as the north starts to reopen.
This week the seven day case rate in Derry Strabane rose above the 100 cases per 100,000 mark for the first time since early February.
People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll asked the Deputy First Minister about this as she announced the loosening of a range of restrictions at the Stormont Ad Hoc Committee on the COVID-19 Response on Thursday evening.
"Given the fact the virus is obviously still circulating and in some areas we have 100 cases per 100,000 people and warnings from some medical practitioners who warn about previous reckless decisions, how confident are the ministers about the strategy and how it will not lead to a further spike in cases?" asked the West Belfast MLA.
Mrs. O'Neill said long-term predictions are not possible.
"Well in a pandemic, as we've learned day after day for over a year now, there is no certainty in a pandemic so as for what comes next in terms of new variants, the spread, there is a whole lot of factors that will mean that we don't know what the scenario could be in a number of months' time.
"What I can say is that we are confident we have arrived at a balanced way forward, that we are living up to our promise that we wouldn't keep restrictions in place for any longer than necessary. We are taking some preventative measures and we have discussed today adherence which is a big, big thing for us to be successful," she said.
The Deputy First Minister said the Executive is considering bringing forward proposals to use local councils to monitor and marshal the reopening.
"We've asked the Communities Minister [Deirdre Hargey] to go and come back with some proposals around, for example, could we support local government to do more in terms of COVID marshals?
"Can we support councils to be able to work with local businesses whether that be across any of the sectors from retail right through to food and hospitality so we've asked her to go and look and see if there is something more that we can do to support councils to support the adherence to what we have outlined today," she said.