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Coronavirus: Virus gaining momentum again in NI, says Robin Swann

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image copyrightKelvin Boyes/Press Eye
image captionHealth Minister Robin Swann says there is a "narrow window" to suppress the virus

Coronavirus is "gaining momentum" again in Northern Ireland and there is a "narrow window" to suppress it, Health Minister Robin Swann has said.

Mr Swann said the 14-day incidence rate for new cases here had risen from 64 per 100,000 to 85.9.

New restrictions banning household visits took effect on Tuesday evening.

NI's chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride warned NI could see 500 new cases per day by October if rules are flaunted.

'Lives depend on it'

Speaking at a press briefing at Stormont, Dr McBride urged "everyone to pause and think about that".

"It doesn't have to be like that but is dependent on what we all do now.

"I ask for six months more commitment from you - as if your life depends on it - because your life and the lives of others does depend on it."

The health minister said he challenged "anyone who still doubts the seriousness of this virus to sit across the table" from a family bereaved by Covid-19.

Hospital visits restricted

Mr Swann confirmed that hospital visits in Northern Ireland are to be restricted to one family member per patient, once a week.

It is an extension of the localised restrictions brought in earlier this month that would see visits reduced in certain postcode areas.

The minister said there will be new guidance issued around exemptions, in particular circumstances.

Earlier he met the family of a cancer patient who died at Craigavon Area Hospital after an outbreak of the virus.

image copyrightPacemaker
image captionSix deaths have been linked to the outbreak at the haematology ward in Craigavon Hospital

John Fleming, 79, from Loughgilly, County Armagh, was being treated for bone cancer when the virus entered the hospital's haematology ward last month.

The father of four tested positive on the day before he was to be discharged and died on 3 September.

Mr Fleming's family had written an open letter to the minister raising questions about the outbreak at the hospital.

'We need answers'

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Fleming's widow Ann said: "It's tough, extremely tough, but we don't want this to happen to anyone else.

"It's no good standing up in your big shiny office saying we didn't do this and didn't do that.

"That's not on. We need answers."

Mr Fleming's daughter Yvonne said she believed the minister had "listened intently" to their concerns.

Mr Swann said the outbreaks of coronavirus in the Southern Trust shows "the cruelty of this virus".

image copyrightPacemaker
image captionFive patients have died as a result of a Covid-19 outbreak in Daisy Hill Hospital's male medical ward

Eleven patients have died following outbreaks of coronavirus at Daisy Hill and Craigavon Area hospitals.

A level three Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) investigation is to be carried out across the Southern Trust, which operates the hospitals.

It has also been confirmed that an SAI investigation into the deaths of two patients at Antrim Area Hospital has been escalated to the highest level.

The two patients died earlier this year during what the Northern Trust said was a "surge period" for the virus in the hospital, but details have only recently emerged.

Both patients were related and the Northern Trust said the family was consulted about the move.

Mr Swann announced that Dr Guduru Gopal Rao, a microbiologist in London North West University NHS Trust, will lead the independent review into the handling of the Southern Trust outbreaks.

"I'm on record as saying lessons need to be learned," added the minister.

image captionThe biggest increase in cases in the last 24 hours has occurred in Belfast council area

The latest Department of Health statistics show there have been no further coronavirus-related deaths and 220 more positive cases. The death toll remains at 577.

The dashboard also shows 41 people are in hospital with Covid-19, six in intensive care units.

Two deaths were recorded in the Republic of Ireland and 234 new cases of coronavirus were reported in the past 24 hours.

'Take action'

Dr Michael McBride said he understood that families of patients who had died in the Southern Trust wanted "answers to reasonable questions".

He said the Severe Adverse Incident (SAI) review can "seem protracted and prolonged".

"What I can say is to provide those answers requires complex and detailed examination of complicated factors which may have contributed.

"It's important work to be undertaken throughout and we will undertake it and complete it as quickly as possible.

"Sadly with transmission levels within the community, we will see further outbreaks in hospitals and care homes and that's why it's crucially important we take action now to suppress levels."

Dr McBride also said that the "virus hasn't weakened" and urged the public to adhere to the latest restrictions and take personal responsibility.

"It's really up to all of us - you will choose to follow or not and by your decisions or actions, not only take risks upon yourself but choose to expose others.

"I ask you now not to give up, do not be deflected - do not lose your commitment."

He added that if Northern Ireland did not take the "narrow window of opportunity" to reduce the spread of the virus, there would be "much worse to come".

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