A significant increase in community transmission of Covid-19 will represent “two steps back” in the fight to keep Covid-19 under control, the chief medical officer has said.
r Michael McBride said the R number locally remained below 1.
But he added the decline in newly diagnosed cases is beginning to taper off, as he warned that the reopening of schools will result in a climb in positive cases.
He also said the health service “remains extremely fragile” as latest figures revealed there have been 225 new cases, five further deaths and 340 Covid-19 inpatients, of which 48 are in intensive care.
Asked about the dangers of people gathering outdoors at beauty spots and for his advice for Easter, he said: “At this point in time the message is stay at home for all but essential travel. Obviously, it is essential for people to get outdoors for exercise, it’s good for people’s mental health and wellbeing, as well as physical health.”
Dr McBride said while the risk of transmission is lower in an outdoor setting, he asked the public to observe the Executive’s guidance to limit travel away from home to less than 10km.
“Yes, we all want to get to the beach, we all want to get to country parks and forest parks, but it is important probably just at this time, particularly as the Executive considers its next steps, that we continue to press down on this virus,” he explained.
“It hasn’t gone away yet and we do have a period of time to make sure that we keep it in check to ensure that when the Executive makes decisions about the next steps, that hopefully we are starting from a very low baseline, and that will be important in terms of keeping the pressure off our health service and getting our children back to school.”
Dr McBride also said keeping restrictions in place for as long as possible will be crucial in ensuring we can reopen in a safe and sustainable way.
“Some things will happen earlier because they are more important, ie getting schools back, and other things will happen earlier because they carry less risk,” he added.
“Getting back to the point of the social contact budget, we just need to be careful what we spend it on.
“We spend it on the things that matter most first, and if you think about it like this, the longer we can keep that R number below 1 and the further below 1 it is, then the more money and credit in the bank, and therefore the more we can spend on the things that matter most to people.
“I think that’s the best way to think about this, that at this present moment in time, although it’s having a damaging impact, there is no doubt about that, hopefully it will put us in a better place to make relaxations on the current restrictions and ensure that those are more likely than not to be permanent relaxations in those restrictions, because I think the last thing that any of us want is to lurch back to where we were before.”
Health Minister Robin Swann has also expressed a preference for a gradual relaxation of restrictions, advocating “safe and controlled measures” to avoid a further wave of the virus as he revealed three cases of the South African variant have been identified here.