The COVID-19 threat has diminished but not disappeared, Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Michael McBride, has emphasised.
The CMO said that due to the availability of vaccines and effective treatments, more targeted responses to the virus can be deployed. He was speaking on the National Day of Reflection, marking the second anniversary of the first lockdown.
He encouraged everyone to show their respect today and look out for each other in the days, weeks and months ahead by following simple public health steps, including:
- Getting vaccinated if you have not already done so. Anyone eligible for the forthcoming Spring boosters should come forward at the first opportunity.
- Wearing a face covering in busy indoor locations like shops and public transport and when visiting or attending hospitals, care homes or other health and social care settings.
- Meeting outdoors as the weather improves and ensuring good ventilation when indoors by opening doors and windows.
- Washing hands regularly and well – this remains an effective way to stop COVID-19 and other diseases spreading.
- Professor Sir Michael McBride said: “It is right and proper that we reflect on the terrible losses and immense sacrifices of the past two years.
“It is also important that we all continue to guard against complacency regarding the virus. We must keep making safer choices in our daily lives and continue to follow public health advice. That’s how we protect the most vulnerable and help ease ongoing pressures on our health service.
“As we look back on the last two years, let me again pay tribute to everyone who has worked in health and social care and other key services during this most difficult period.
“Of course, we must have uppermost in our thoughts all those who have lost loved ones. We owe it to them to learn all the lessons from the pandemic and to build a more resilient health service for the future.”
He continued: “We should also reflect on the important advances that have been made – in terms of the successful vaccination programme, with more than 3.7 million jabs delivered in Northern Ireland, and the continuing roll-out of effective treatments.
“We did not have these advantages in the earlier phases of the pandemic. Now that we do, we can continue moving away from blanket measures to more focussed responses – such as targeted testing and making sure the most vulnerable have timely access to treatments and vaccines.
“There is a lot of talk about ‘living with COVID’ just as we live with other infectious diseases like Norovirus and ‘Flu. This does not and must not mean living as if COVID does not exist. By continuing to follow public health advice, we can look after each other and protect those at most risk.”
Concluding, Professor Sir Michael said: “The COVID threat has not disappeared but it has been reduced. While case numbers remain high, significantly fewer people are becoming seriously ill and requiring intensive care. While our hospitals remain under severe pressure, that is not solely due to the direct impact of COVID-19. Given how infectious the Omicron variant is, there is now an increased likelihood of the virus not being the main reason why some COVID-19 positive patients are in hospital. Of course, having COVID-19 in such circumstances will remain a complicating factor – in terms of severity of illness, length of hospital stay and the care provided.”