Three more coronavirus deaths in NI as GPs call for ‘complete lockdown’

Three more people with coronavirus have died in Northern Ireland, taking the region’s toll to 13.

The Public Health Agency said there had been 34 new positive cases of the infection since Thursday.

The total number of confirmed cases now sits at 275 but health chiefs acknowledge thousands are likely to have already contracted Covid-19 across the region.

The latest figures were released as GPs in Belfast called on Stormont ministers to introduce a “complete lockdown” to try to limit the spread of the virus.

The chairs of the city’s four GP federations wrote an open letter warning Northern Ireland’s politicians that current social distancing regulations were “not stringent enough”.

“We are dismayed at the actions of many members of the public, who it seems to us, are failing to understand the gravity of the current situation in which we find ourselves,” they wrote.

They added: “We call on our political leaders to hear and act on our heartfelt pleas and move to adopt a ‘complete lockdown’ as we have seen in other countries, at the earliest opportunity.”

Northern Ireland continues to brace itself for a surge in cases.

Work is under way to establish large temporary field hospitals for coronavirus patients after modelling indicated that the current health service network may not have the capacity to cope at the peak of the outbreak.

A soon-to-be-decommissioned Army base in Co Down will be used as a temporary morgue if current body storage facilities are overwhelmed.

Medics who are dealing with the unfolding crisis continue to raise concerns about the standard and supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

On Friday, a nurse said she is treating patients with a “knot in her stomach” amid fears of infection.

She urged the Department of Health to intervene to ensure workers are better protected from Covid-19.

The A&E nurse, who spoke anonymously to the BBC, claimed medics were having to wear paper surgical masks rather than seal-proof FFP3 masks they had been promised.

The nurse said she feels fearful as she goes about her work treating coronavirus patients.

“We feel exposed,” she said.

“I had been with a lady all day, working with bodily fluids, working in very close contact, and I had just got this fluid shield mask with an apron and gloves, and I honestly felt I had a knot in my stomach for most of the day in fear that, if she did come back positive, that was the only PPE I had on.”

She added: “I have yet to speak to a healthcare worker on the front line that says, ‘Yeah, our PPE is really good, I feel really well protected’ – because we don’t.”

Health minister Robin Swann said “concrete action” is being taken over Northern Ireland’s PPE stocks.

Guidance on the use of PPE for healthcare workers is expected to be updated within the next two days.

“This is a very fluid situation and there is inevitably very high demand for PPE. It needs to be emphasised that we have substantial PPE in stock and it is being issued to the system, with more orders placed,” Mr Swann said.

“Steps have also been taken to streamline and improve its distribution, and to ensure the independent care home and domiciliary care providers are supported.

“Ensuring the safety of all staff who are dealing with Covid-19 patients is an absolute priority. It is, of course, also essential that these products are used in line with advice.

“Demand for PPE will inevitably intensify in the days and weeks ahead.

“We are therefore taking every conceivable step to keep building up our stocks to meet this demand. It is very welcome news that key global supply chains are starting to reopen.

“We will pursue every feasible supply route, both local and international, to enhance our supplies.”

Coronavirus testing in the region is expected to be significantly stepped up to 1,100 a day from next week but concerns persist that the rate is still lagging well behind testing regimes introduced in other countries battling the virus.