The Health Minister Robin Swann has issued a statement on the governments response to the Coronavirus emergency.
Making a speech to the NI Assembly, Mr Swann began:
“As of today, 150 tests have been carried out – 149 of which were negative and 1 was positive. As Members may be aware, the Public Health Agency have been publishing the number of tests on a weekly basis. However with recent developments we are now moving to twice weekly updates. As such, further information on the number of tests carried out will be published again later this week.
“The individual who had a confirmed positive result for COVID-19 on the 27th February is receiving appropriate specialist health care in keeping with expert advice and agreed procedures. I understand the individual followed the public health advice and had self-isolated before seeking medical attention. I am sure Members will join me in wishing them a speedy recovery.”
Speaking about what measures are in place, the Health Minister continued:
“Across the UK public health professionals are continuing to carry out enhanced monitoring of direct flights from areas such as northern Italy and Iran.
“Whilst the situation is no doubt serious, and whilst it is far from certain that it will happen, detailed plans are in place in case of the virus becoming a pandemic. Even with the recent case I would stress that we are very much still in the containment phase.
“We have been planning for the first positive case in Northern Ireland and we have robust infection control measures in place which have enabled us to respond immediately to this type of situation. Our health service is used to managing infections and we are well prepared to deal with this.
“I would like to reassure members of the public that we are taking all necessary measures to minimise the risk to them. As I have previously stated it was not unexpected that at some point we would have a positive case in Northern Ireland. However, it is important that we continue to remain calm and focused on containment at this point. The risk to individuals in Northern Ireland has not changed at this stage. Based on the advice of the UK Chief Medical Officers the risk to the UK remains at moderate.
“However we will continue to plan and be ready for all eventualities as Members will no doubt be fully aware that the virus has continued to spread to many countries and regions.”
Mr Swann then went on to remind members of the public the current advice being recommended if a person suspects themselves or others as having Coronavirus.
“My advice to the public remains the same. To those members of the public who have symptoms and are concerned they may have COVID-19 I would urge them not to turn up at GP clinics or hospital Emergency Departments. They should instead contact their GP or GP out of hours. Advice will then be given on next steps, including testing if required.
“I would like to remind Members and the public that everyone can play their part. I would encourage everyone to take sensible precautions of washing their hands regularly and to especially heed the advice recommend for similar illnesses such as cold and flu – catch it, bin it and kill it.“
A revealed over the weekend, Northern Ireland will now have full access to the NHS 111 number for advice and information on the Coronavirus and Antrim Area Hospital now has set up a ‘drive in’ Coronavirus clinic.
Concluding his statement, Mr Swann said:
“Lastly I want to thank all the staff who have been involved in dealing with the first confirmed case in Northern Ireland. Their professionalism and dedication is very reassuring. My priority as Minister is to ensure that all effective measures continue to be put in place in Northern Ireland.
“In conclusion, let me direct my comments beyond this House – to the people watching at home, and indeed to the media reporting on these proceedings. It is vital that we keep taking a balanced, proportionate approach at all times – with our actions based on the best scientific advice.
“Complacency is our enemy – but so too are panic and hysteria. As we’ve said, we will continue to prepare for all eventualities. When the UK Government issues its action plan tomorrow, there will inevitably be intense interest in what kind of emergency measures may form part of our collective planning. These are measures that we will have in our toolkits to deploy only if required. “If required” are important words in that sentence
“The emergency measures in the forthcoming UK Government action plan will apply to Northern Ireland, if needed. It is normal practice to plan for worst case scenarios. This does not mean these outcomes are expected or likely. This is a really important point to underline.
“Our primary focus remains on containment at this time and then to delay and mitigate. There are risks for society in taking premature actions – actions not grounded in scientific advice. Obviously, public health protection must come first. I’m sure all members would agree on that.
“The people of Northern Ireland are a resilient people. I believe they are well used to keeping calm during challenging circumstances.”