Covid rates ‘will keep rising if schools and hospitality remain open’

Covid-19 infection rates will keep rising if schools and the hospitality sector remain open, a paper from Northern Ireland’s health minister has warned.

Advice from health and scientific experts has been submitted by Robin Swann for Stormont ministers to consider.

The weekly meeting of the powersharing administration, scheduled for Thursday, was brought forward in an indication that decisions on fresh restrictions are imminent amid rapidly increased virus spread.

Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride and chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young have already recommended a country-wide lockdown lasting four to six weeks.

Michael McBride
Michael McBride

The aim is to reduce the reproduction rate of the virus to below one infected for every person diagnosed.

Ministers have been warned that it is not considered likely that the R rate can be less than one with both schools and hospitality open.

Officials previously urged school closures for a period within the lockdown, though not necessarily for the entirety of it.

They have said action needs to be taken within days and have identified the six-week lockdown as providing the best chance of Northern Ireland reaching Christmas without the need for another.

HEALTH Coronavirus
HEALTH Coronavirus

First Minister Arlene Foster said she will listen to “all advice” to take a “balanced response”.

Mrs Foster said she spent Monday “striving for unity” within the Stormont Executive ahead of a meeting on Tuesday.

She also indicated she is not in favour of closing schools.

The suggestion of a six-week, Northern Ireland-wide lockdown was questioned by a senior DUP MP.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson queried why such a move would be required across the region, given the marked variations in infection rates in different areas.