Experts fear coronavirus pandemic could kill at least 3,000 in Northern Ireland…and there could be a ‘second wave’

Health Minister Robin Swann

EXPERTS fear the coronavirus pandemic could see at least 3,000 deaths in Northern Ireland before the end of the summer.

Northern Ireland Executive Ministers and their officials have over the last 24 hours been involved in a number of initiatives and critical decisions relating to the Coronavirus emergency.

The health service in Northern Ireland should be able to cope with the demand on its services for Covid-19 in the initial wave of cases if the public adheres to social distancing and self-isolation guidelines, it emerged today.

The expert modelling study, which is informing intensive hospital planning in Northern Ireland for the expected surge in Covid-19 cases, suggests health services could cope with that initial wave if public health guidelines are followed.

Under a so-called ‘reasonable worst case scenario’ based on a number of assumptions including social distancing measures producing a 66% reduction in contacts outside the home and workplace, and 70% of symptomatic cases adhering to self-isolation, the peak number of Covid-19 patients requiring ventilation and critical care beds would be 180 during the first wave of the epidemic.

With a peak number of Covid-19 hospital admissions expected to run at 500 per week under this ‘reasonable worst case scenario’, it is estimated the projected number of cumulative Covid-19 deaths in Northern Ireland over 20 weeks of the epidemic would be 3,000 people.

Urging the public not to drop their guard, Health Minister Robin Swann said the projections showed the “continuation of rigorous social distancing will save many lives and protect our health service from collapse.”

However, with the peak of the first wave of cases expected between April 6-20, Minister Swann warned the absence of a vaccine meant “we will have to plan for a potential second wave of Covid-19 cases later in the year” as restrictions on everyday lives are lifted.

Meanwhile, in other developments The First Minister Arlene Foster and the deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill today held a conference call with the Chinese Consul General, Madam Zhang Meifang.

The discussions centred on efforts to secure more equipment to support healthcare staff and also the sharing of medical expertise from China on how to fight the Coronavirus.

In other developments the Covid-19 Engagement Forum met again today involving the trade unions, business organisations, the Public Health Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and the local government chief executives body, SOLACE.

The Forum is continuing to work hard and at pace on advice for the Executive on how to ensure the safety of key workers and essential businesses, as well as on the list of key workers and essential/non-essential businesses.

Also on Wednesday, Finance Minister Conor Murphy urged all public sector contractors to support construction firms engaged in essential works who are coming under financial pressure as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

Public sector bodies are being asked to move quickly and immediately pay suppliers to help guarantee their survival and where goods or services are halted, he said they should continue to pay at risk suppliers.

Minister Murphy also called on all construction companies continuing to provide essential services to comply fully with the PHA’s Covid-19 workplace guidelines.

The first tranche of businesses – around 6,700 – received their £10,000 cash payments under the Small Business Grant Support scheme.

The scheme was approved last week by the Economy Minister Diane Dodds and, as of yesterday, 12,000 more business had supplied their details.

In another development the Education Authority has set up BACS payments for 51,000 families covering 93,000 children who would normally receive free school meals.

As a result of the move announced last week by the Education Minister Peter Weir, families can expect to receive £2.70 per child per day for each day of term their schools are closed. The first payments are being issued today, tomorrow and Friday to families.

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Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots announced a temporary change to carrier bag regulations.

With immediate effect, carrier bags used by retailers to deliver groceries directly via home delivery services will be free of charge. The amendment to the Carrier Bag legislation will be in effect for a six-month period in the midst of the unprecedented challenges faced by us all at present.

Minister Poots sent an open letter to food producers today, thanking all those working hard to keep households, healthcare staff, patients and other key workers fed.

The Minister also said he and his officials would continue to listen and support everyone involved in the agri-food sector as they responded flexibly to demands in the face of a “fast paced, unfamiliar and invisible enemy.”

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Economy Minister Diane Dodds also thanked tens of thousands of workers across the energy sector in Northern Ireland for continuing to ensure there were sufficient electricity, gas, oil and renewable supplies.

Minister Dodds noted some frontline activities had been scaled back to focus on what was essential to maintaining supply, safety and customer care and she urged members of the public to give their support to these essential workers as they carried out their vital tasks.

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