NI Covid-19 restrictions to be reviewed in four weeks

Northern Ireland’s strict lockdown measures will be reviewed in four weeks’ time, the First Minister has said.

Arlene Foster said people needed to work together and adhere to public health measures to “overcome this dreadful virus”.

The post-Christmas lockdown was extended by Stormont ministers on Thursday for a further four weeks until 5 March  It had been scheduled to end next month.

Transmission rates are decreasing slowly and new, more contagious variants are causing Stormont ministers concern.

The restrictions ultimately may not be lifted until after Easter.

It comes as the Department of Health confirmed 14 more people had died of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland – 13 in the past 24 hours.

Another 433 people tested positive for the virus.

There were 796 patients with Covid-19 in hospital on Sunday morning including 74 in intensive care.

The occupancy rate of the region’s hospitals was 88%, down from 92% on Saturday.

The incidence rate per 100,000 population over the last seven days stood at 271.

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon is the area with the highest rate at 488, followed by Mid Ulster at 428, and Newry Mourne and Down at 298.

Derry City and Strabane has the lowest rate at 150.

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Speaking on Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme Mrs Foster said: “What we will do is, on 18 February, we will review where we are in terms of the pandemic – what the positive case numbers are at that point, how our hospitals are coping with the pandemic, what are the number of deaths at that time.

“We will review all of that.

“I have often said, none of this is inevitable. What we need to have is people working with us so that we can overcome this dreadful virus.

“Now that we have the vaccine programme running so effectively in Northern Ireland, that gives a lot of hope for people in the future. We just need to keep working together and make sure we get to the end of this journey and make sure we get through it so that we can rebuild our economy and society.”

The DUP leader said it was important for the community to realise the pressure on the region’s hospitals and support health care workers by adhering to restrictions.

“It is important that we all stick together but also recognise the help that we are getting from the military, who are sending in extra resources to our hospitals and again. (Defence Secretary) Ben Wallace said if we needed any further help in relation to that, he would be willing to do that.

“I think that is really good for us in Northern Ireland to know that there is that extra resource there, if we need it.”

The chairman of Stormont’s health committee said many retired health workers want to return to help the health service but are finding the system too bureaucratic.

Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Politics, Sinn Féin’s Colin Gildernew said: “I believe that there are significant numbers of health service professionals including nurses who are seeking to return to practice, but are caught up in a system that’s bureaucratic, is at times too slow, it’s unresponsive, a system that was designed pre-Covid but which I think, with a focus and urgency, we could get more of those very, very experienced [people]. That’s a critical issue.

“It’s my belief there’s ICU nurses, nurse consultants, palliative care nurses and respiratory nurses all within that system.”