Northern Ireland must “crawl before we walk” when it comes to the easing of any coronavirus restrictions, the Health Minister has warned.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Robin Swann said caution must be the watchword as new variants of Covid-19 represent a considerable uncertainty.
Mr Swann said the Executive cannot walk the public out of one lockdown, only to end up falling into another in a small number of weeks.
Long pandemic battle continues
Mr Swann opened his statement yesterday wanting to give the public some hope but to also stress the need for caution.
“I want to talk today about how we can steadily work our way out of it,” he added.
“It is a finely balanced conversation because I want to offer people hope but to stress the need for caution. Like everyone else, I long for the day when restrictions do not hang like a dark cloud over all aspects of our daily lives. That day is achievable but we have to tread carefully towards it.”
Some restrictions may be in place for some time
Robin Swann acknowledged “uncertainties and unknowns”.
He added: “As the chief medical officer has rightly made clear, some restrictions may be with us into the long-term.
“We may be wearing face coverings in shops and on public transport for a time to come.
“That kind of restriction may well become part of our new normal. This is not to say that lockdown – or partial lockdown – will roll on indefinitely. It doesn’t have to be that way. To be clear restrictions and lockdown are not the same thing.
“If we continue with the progress we are making, we can consider a careful, managed, easing of some measures – but only when and if the timing is right.”
Executive to meet next week for discussion on restrictions
“The Executive will, next week, look at what should be done in March,” Mr Swann told the media.
“It will consider what changes, if any, should be and can be made to current restrictions.”
Swann’s three guiding principles on how we should proceed
1. Infection rates must come down and pressure on hospitals, ease. Robin Swan said there is still more to do as hospitals and health workers remain “under intense pressure”. He says the public need to redouble efforts to stay home, only shop when necessary, wash hands and wear masks if we want a better spring and summer.
2. We need to be acutely aware of the risks and uncertainties that come with the virus, Minister Swann added. He says with the easing of any restrictions, we have to crawl before we can walk, and walk before we can even think about running.
3. He says he is mindful of how tough this all is and the toll it is taking. “I hate the word lockdown,” he added, saying he also dislikes the damage being done to our community, economy and individual lives. As a father, he says he understands the sacrifices being made by children and that he longs for the day he can see his wider family. “We are not there yet – there is still work to be done, so I ask you to still keep playing your part”. Minister Swann urged people to get the vaccine when it is offered, stay safe, and that is how we all get through this “and get through it together”.
R number for ICU admissions still above 1
Dr Michael McBride said intensive care was still under pressure but there was a “levelling out” of numbers.
The R number for ICU admissions is still above 1.
He noted a “continued fall” in the number of new Covid-19 patients requiring admission into hospital.
He said vaccines alone would not hold the virus in check and added he had stated the obvious about the long-term prognosis for the pandemic.
“We must not let history repeat itself”
Minister Swann added: “We remember only too well what happened over the Christmas period, and how increased mixing led to a huge spike in cases.
“In the coming weeks, we have St Patrick’s Day and the Easter holidays – times when people traditionally meet up, for socialising, for family time.
“We must not let history repeat itself.”
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