Coronavirus: Belfast MoT centre opens for Covid-19 testing

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NHS staff members are being tested for coronavirus in a Belfast MoT centre

An MoT centre in Belfast has become the first to open as a Covid-19 testing site.

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has said that all DVA centres have now been released to the health department.

It is understood that each venue will be assessed to see if it is suitable.

The total number of NI deaths in the Covid-19 outbreak has reached 73, with three more deaths recorded on Tuesday.

There has now been total number of 1,255 confirmed cases, with 97 new cases confirmed in the last 24 hours.

A special Stormont Covid committee is due to meet for the first time later on Tuesday.

The SSE Arena, which normally hosts concerts and sporting events, began operating as an NHS staff testing site at the weekend.

Some 170 healthcare workers were tested there on Monday, with some getting their results back in the afternoon.

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said: "Through use of our MoT centres, we are delighted to be able to support the health minister and play our part in helping to rapidly increase testing to help save lives.

"Testing is a vital component in our effort to fight back against Covid-19 - and I'm delighted I can play my part."

NHS staff members who have symptoms will be eligible for testing and will book a slot via their line manager.

A health trust spokesperson said they will be advised to isolate until the results come back and then take action based on government advice, depending on the result.

MoTs at the centres have been suspended while the pandemic continues.

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The surge of the virus is expected to arrive in Northern Ireland between 6 and 20 April.

Health Minister Robin Swann said he was aware that a number of healthcare staff who were in isolation were keen to "return to work as soon as possible to support colleagues at this critical time".

"I understand that it has been a frustrating and worrying time for those staff who have displayed symptoms of Covid-19, or those whose family members have symptoms.

"The rapid expansion of testing capacity has been a key priority and we have been working with the Public Health Agency and HSC Trust colleagues to significantly increase the number of healthcare workers who can access testing for Covid-19."

Meanwhile, nurses are "very relieved" about the arrival of 5.5m pieces of personal protection equipment (PPE) but the delivery "can't be a one-off".

That's according to Pat Cullen, head of the Royal College of Nursing in Northern Ireland, who told Good Morning Ulster that they could not predict how long the equipment would last and said there needed to be "a steady flow".

She thanked Health Minister Robin Swann and said he had intervened when there was an issue with the consignment, which was reported to have been "turned back".

She said she believed Mr Swann would "look very carefully" at how the equipment will be distributed, including the independent sector and district and community nurses.

Extra ventilators ordered

Meanwhile, the Department of Health has said Northern Ireland's health system has increased its total of mechanical ventilators used in critical care to 197.

It said substantial orders are in place for extra ventilators and a range of devices capable of providing respiratory support.

Robin Swann outlined that extra ventilators are on order to meet the estimated clinical care need of 400 ventilated clinical care beds.

He said another 500 respiratory devices are on order that can support patients before or after critical care.

Mr Swann was speaking as he toured facilities and met staff at NI's first Nightingale Hospital in the tower block of Belfast City Hospital.

The new regional unit, staffed by a team from across Northern Ireland, is a key part of surge plans drawn up to cope with the expected increase in patients affected by Covid-19 symptoms.

The first and deputy first ministers have stressed that this is a "critical fortnight" for Northern Ireland.

They urged people not to relax their guard and to continue to follow strict social distancing guidelines over the Easter break.

In other developments:

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Steps the NHS says you should take to protect yourself from Covid-19

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