Coronavirus battle a long haul, warns Northern Ireland health minister
Northern Ireland’s battle with coronavirus will continue for the “long haul”, the health minister has declared.
Movement restrictions have been extended until at least May.
Robin Swann warned the decision on when to ease them will be difficult as the economy suffers its worst damage for generations.
Mr Swann said: “The prospect of a second surge later this year must weigh heavily on all our minds.
“This is no time for final verdicts to be delivered, favourable or critical.
“We are in this for the long haul.
“We will also have to face up to difficult conversations down the line about when or if to ease any social distancing restrictions.
“That time is not now. At this moment in time, we have to stick firmly with the measures we have.”
Only essential travel is permitted and people are urged to remain at home to limit infection spread.
Ministers are attempting to replenish supplies of protective equipment for health workers.
A quarter of a million gowns have been sent to England and Mr Swann defended temporary sharing of materials throughout the UK.
He held discussions with fellow ministers in Northern Ireland on Wednesday about maintaining social distancing restrictions.
He said: “On the back of that review, the Executive today has agreed that the restrictions and requirements set out in the regulations continue to be necessary if we are to continue to flatten the epidemic curve, manage the capacity of the health service and keep Covid-19 deaths to a minimum.
“There will be a further review which will inform how we progress and the position will be closely monitored, however now, as before, the message remains the same – please keep safe, stay home, and protect our NHS, as they are working to protect us.”
He said the gowns had been sent to England over the last fortnight to help ease pressure on protective supplies there.
They will be immediately reimbursed once their own stocks arrive.
The minister said: “But equally, when I recently reported a serious shortage of eye protective equipment, England and Wales acted quickly to help us.
“And of course we must remember all of this in the context that the UK government has already sent Northern Ireland over 5.6 million items of personal protective equipment.
“So I make no apologies for sharing our stock because when we need some the other UK nations are not reluctant to share theirs.
“That demonstrates the value and success of the four-nation approach we have been taking.”
He briefed Stormont Assembly members on Wednesday.
Northern Ireland has significantly increased its supplies from local sources.
The Ulster Unionist said: “Local industry is to be commended as it continues to show itself to be adaptable, innovative and responsive to changing operating environments.”
China is the most significant source of world-wide supplies.
The minister said the work led by the Department of Finance and Health Department to secure equipment was at a critical stage.
“We continue to work to ensure all possible steps are taken to open up a supply chain which meets our needs and supports our four nations approach.”
He said they were working to make sure health care workers who needed them were tested.
Mr Swann also expressed concern that not enough people were coming forward for unrelated medical care and said anyone with emergencies should see a doctor.